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'RY OF f- 

RO)«t*^ itoH iu««oi\ \ 

Dtr 1 r ■■> nT^T -T-TTA 

Thomas Hart Bsnton 



The Story of His Life and Work 






Tv/o Copies 


APR 16 


, Copy^ghr 


Class c*- 

XXc No. 


A J 

Copyright, 1886 
Copyright, 1899 



Copyright, 1899 
Copyright, 1903 



This edition of "Thomas Hart Benton" is issued under special 
arrangement with Houghton, Mifflin and Company 


THE nigged figure of Thomas Hart Benton 
has never been given its proper place in the 
American pohtical pantheon. His pubUc 
career covered a period during which the leaders 
of our pohtical thought were more often to be 
foimd in the Senate than even in the presidential 
chair, and his name has been dimmed because of 
its association with the great names of Clay, Cal- 
houn, and Webster. He was not, like Calhoun, 
the leader, and almost the embodiment, of a move- 
ment which for a quarter of a century became of 
ever-increasing importance in our national poli- 
tics, imtil it broke in the bloody crash of the Civil 
War. He was not, like Webster or Clay, the idol 
and leader of a great wing of his own party. In 
point of ability he was not the equal of any one of 
these three men ; but none the less he was a very 
able man, and in rugged force of character, in 
imwavering intensity of purpose, and in honorable 
and disinterested devotion to the good of the 
country as he saw it, he was not surpassed by 
any of his associates, and he was equaled by but 
very few. 




The man who represented Missouri when she 
was the westernmost State, with all the frontier 
virtues, but also with all the frontier limitations 
and narrow prejudices, could not well avoid 
making what, by our standard, we should call 
mistakes; but we cannot refuse the meed of 
generous praise to a man who was always entirely 
honest and entirely courageous. Even at the 
present day we have plenty of statesmen and 
publicists who can study with advantage a public 
career which had for its cardinal points the belief 
in soimd money, and stem devotion to the wel- 
fare of the entire Union, without regard to sec- 
tional prejudices. 

During the years when the West first rose to 
prominence — under the lead of those western- 
middle States, which were called the border States 
because they came between the North and the 
South, though nearer to the latter — Benton 
shared with Clay and Jackson the leadership of 
the new forces which were actively engaged in 
transforming the political no less than the social 
structures of American life. When the West 
broke into North and South, as the East had 
before broken, and when the tide of disunion 
rose rapidly from the Gulf northward to the 
Potomac and the Missouri, Benton sternly refused 
to abandon his principles, and went down beneath 
the flood without a sign either of yielding or of 

Preface v 

complaint. He belongs in that group of men to 
whom our country, in the second great crisis of 
its existence, owes most; for his name must be 
numbered among the names of the Southern men 
who, when the South went wrong, stood by the 
nation as against their own section. It was easy 
enough for the Northerner, in i860 and the years 
immediately preceding it, to stand for national 
union, because all the people round about him so 
stood. In like manner it was not very difficult 
for a Northerner to favor the abolition of slavery. 
But it was a very different thing for a Southerner 
to take such a stand at that moment. Just as 
infinitely more credit attaches to a Southerner 
who stood on the slave question where Bimey 
and Cassius M. Clay stood than can possibly 
attach to any of their Northern colleagues in the 
work, so the statesmen and soldiers who deserved 
best of the country were those who, against the 
feeling of their localities, upheld the National 
Union. During the Civil War these men were 
typified by soldiers like Thomas and sailors like 
Farragut; in the years that led up to the war 
they were typified by statesmen like Benton of 

Washington, April, 1898. 




The Young West i 

Bentox's Early Life and Entry into the Senate. . . 22 

Early Years in the Senate 45 

The Election of Jackson, and the Spoils System. . . 66 


The Struggle with the Nullifiers 84 

Jackson and Benton Make War on the Bank ... 109 

The Distribution of the Surplus 136 

The Slave Question Appears in Politics 149 


The Children's Teeth Are Set on Edge 174 


viii Contents 



Last Days of the Jacksoxian Democracy 198 

The President without a Party 225 

Boundary Troubles with England 246 


The Abolitionists Dance to the Slave Barons' 

Piping 275 

Slavery in the New Territories 300 

The Losing Fight 322 

Index 347 


Thomas Hart Benton . . . Frontispiece 
From an Engraving by J. Rogers. 

Roger B. Taney 124 

From a Daguerreotype by Bennett. 

John C. Fremont ..... 267 

From a Photograph by Brady. 

Samuel Houston ..... 310 

From a Daguerreotype by B. P. Page. 





EVEN before the end of the Revolutionary 
War the movement had begun which was 
to change in form a stragghng chain of 
seaboard republics into a mighty continental 
nation, the great bulk of whose people would live 
to the westward of the Appalachian Llountains. 
The hardy and restless backwoodsmen, dwelling 
along the eastern slopes of the Alleghanies, were 
already crossing the mountain crests and hewing 
their way into the vast, somber forests of the 
Mississippi basin; and for the first time English- 
speaking communities were growing up along 
waters whose outlet was into the Gulf of Mexico 
and not into the Atlantic Ocean. Among these 
commtmities Kentucky and Tennessee were the 
earliest to form themselves into States; and 
around them, as a nucleus, other States of the 
woodland and the prairie were rapidly developed, 

2 Thomas Hart Benton 

until, by the close of the second decade in the 
present centur>% the region between the Great 
Lakes and the Gulf was almost soHdly filled in, 
and finally, in 1820, by the admission of Missouri, 
the Union held within its borders a political body 
whose whole territory lay to the west of the Mis- 

All the men who founded these States were of 
much the same type; they were rough frontiers- 
men, of strong will and adventurous temper, ac- 
customed to the hard, barren, and yet strangely 
fascinating life of those who dwell as pioneers in 
the wilderness. ]\Ioreover, they were nearly all 
of the same blood. The people of New York and 
New England were as yet filling out their own 
territory; it was not till many years afterward 
that their stock became the predominant one in 
the Northwestern country. ]\Iost of the men who 
founded the new States north of the Ohio came 
originally from the old States south of the Poto- 
mac; Virginia and North Carolina were the first 
of the original thirteen to thrust forth their chil- 
dren in masses, that they might shift for them- 
selves in the then imtrodden West. 

But though these early Western pioneers were 
for the most part of Southern stock, they were by 
no means of the same stamp as the men who then 
and thereafter formed the ruling caste in the old 
slaveholding States. They were the mountaineers, 

The Young West 3 

the men of the foothills and uplands, who lived in 
what were called the backwater counties. Many 
of them were themselves of northern origin. In 
striking contrast to the somewhat sluggish and 
peaceful elements going to make up the rest of 
its heterogeneous population, Pennsylvania also 
originally held within its boundaries many mem- 
bers of that most fiery and restless race, the 
Scotch-Irish. These naturally drew toward the 
wilder, western parts of the State, settling along 
the slopes of the numerous inland mountain ridges 
running parallel to the Atlantic coast; and from 
thence they drifted southward through the long 
valleys, until they met and mingled with their 
kinsfolk of Virginia and the Carolinas, when the 
movement again trended toward the West. In 
a generation or two, all, whether their forefathers 
were English, Scotch, Irish, or, as was often the 
case, German and Huguenot, were welded into 
one people ; and in a very short time the stem and 
hard surroundings of their life had hammered this 
people into a peculiar and characteristically Amer- 
ican type, which to this day remains almost un- 
changed. In their old haunts we still see the 
same tall, gaunt men, with strongly marked faces 
and saturnine, resolute eyes ; men who may pass 
half their days in listless idleness, but who are also 
able to show on occasion the fiercest intensity of 
purpose and the most sustained energy of action. 

4 Thomas Hart Benton 

We see them, moreover, in many places, even 
across to the Pacific coast and down to the Rio 
Grande. For after thronging through the gaps 
and passes of the Appalachians, and penetrating 
the "forest region to the outskirts of the treeless 
country beyond, the whilom mountaineers and 
woodsmen, the wielders of the axe and rifle, then 
streamed off far to the West and South and even 
to the Northwest, their lumbering, white-topped 
wagons being, even to the present moment, a 
familiar sight to those who travel over the prairies 
and the great plains ; while it is their descendants 
who, in the saddle instead of afoot, and with rope 
and revolver instead of axe and rifle, now form 
the bulk of the reckless horsemen who spend their 
lives in guarding the wandering cattle herds that 
graze over the vast, arid plains of the " Far West." 
The method of settlement of these States of the 
Mississippi valley had nothing whatever in com- 
mon with the way in which California and the 
Austrahan colonies were suddenly filled up by the 
promiscuous overflow of a civilized population, 
which had practically no fear of any resistance 
from the stunted and scanty native races. It was 
far more closely akin to the tribe movements of 
the Germanic peoples in time past ; to that move- 
ment, for example, by which the Juttish and Low 
Dutch sea-thieves on the coast of Britain worked 
their way inland at the cost of the Cymric Celts. 

The Young West 5 

The early settlers of the territory lying immedi- 
ately west of the Alleghanies were all of the same 
kind ; they were in search of homes, not of riches, 
and their actions were planned accordingly, except 
in so far as they were influenced by mere restless 
love of adventure and excitement. Individuals 
and single families, of course, often started off by 
themselves ; but for the most part the men moved 
in bands, with their wives and their children, their 
cattle and their few household goods ; each settler 
being from the necessity of the case also a fighter, 
ready, and often forced, to do desperate battle in 
defense of himself and his family. Where such a 
band or little party settled, there would gradually 
grow up a village or small town; for instance, 
where those renowned pioneers and heroes of the 
backwoods. Boon and Harrod, first formed per- 
manent settlements after they had moved into 
Kentucky, now stands the towns of Boonsboro and 

The country whither these settlers went was not 
one into which timid men would willingly venture, 
and the founders of the West were perforce men 
of stem stuff, who from the very beginning formed 
a most warlike race. It is impossible to under- 
stand aright the social and poHtical life of the 
section, unless we keep prominently before our 
minds that it derived its distinguishing traits 
largely from the extremely militant character 

6 Thomas Hart Benton 

acquired by all the early settlers during the long 
drawn out warfare in which the first two genera- 
tions were engaged. The land was already held 
by powerful Indian tribes and confederacies, who 
waged war after war, of the most ferocious and 
bloody character, against the men of the border, in 
the effort to avert their inevitable doom, or at least 
to stem for the time being the invasion of the 
swelling tide of white settlement. At the present 
time, when an Indian uprising is a matter chiefly 
of annoyance, and dangerous only to scattered, 
outlying settlers, it is difficult to realize the for- 
midable nature of the savage Indian wars waged 
at the end of the last and the beginning of the 
present centuries. The red nations were then 
really redoubtable enemies, able to send into the 
field thousands of well-armed warriors, whose 
ferocious bravery and skill rendered them quite as 
formidable antagonists as trained European sol- 
diers would have been. Warfare with them did 
not affect merely outlying farms or hamlets; it 
meant a complete stoppage of the white move- 
ment westward, and great and imminent danger 
even to the large communities already in exis- 
tence, — a state of things which would have to 
continue until the armies raised among the pio- 
neers were able, in fair shock of battle, to shatter 
the strength of their red foes. The victories of 
Wayne and Harrison were conditions precedent 

The Young West 7 

to the opening of the Ohio valley ; Kentucky was 
won by a hundred nameless and bloody fights, 
whose heroes, like Shelby and Sevier, afterward 
rose to prominent rank in civil life; and it was 
only after a hard-fought campaign and slaughter- 
ing victories that the Tennesseeans were able to 
break the power of the great Creek confederacy, 
which was thrust in between them and what were 
at that time the French and Spanish lands lying 
to the south and southwest. 

The founders of our Western States were val- 
iant warriors as well as hardy pioneers, and from 
the very first their fighting was not confined to 
uncivilized foes. It was they who at King's Moun- 
tain slew gallant Ferguson, and completely de- 
stroyed his little army; it was from their ranks 
that most of Morgan's men were recruited, when 
that grizzled old bush-fighter smote Tarleton so 
roughly at the battle of the Cowpens. These two 
blows crippled Comwallis, and were among the 
chief causes of his final overthrow. At last, dur- 
ing the War of 181 2, there was played out the 
final act in the military drama of which the West 
had been the stage during the lifetime of a genera- 
tion. For this war had a twofold aspect : on the 
seaboard it was regarded as a contest for the 
rights of our sailors, and as a revolt against Great 
Britain's domineering insolence ; west of the moun- 
tains, on the other hand, it was simply a renewal 

8 Thomas Hart Benton 

on a large scale of the Indian struggles, all the 
red-skinned peoples joining together in a great and 
last effort to keep the lands which were being 
wrested from them; and there Great Britain's 
part was chiefly that of ally to the savages, help- 
ing them with her gold and with her well-drilled 
mercenary troops. The battle of the Thames is 
memorable rather because of the defeat and death 
of Tecumseh than because of the flight of Proctor 
and the capture of his British regulars ; and for 
the opening of the Southwest the ferocious fight 
at the Horseshoe Bend was almost as important 
as the far more famous conflict of New Orleans. 

The War of 1812 brought out conspicuously the 
solidarity of interest in the West. The people 
there were then all pretty much of the same blood ; 
and they made common cause against outsiders in 
the mihtary field, exactly as afterward they for 
some time acted together politically. Farther 
eastward, on the Niagara frontier, the fighting 
was done by the troops of New York and New 
England, unassisted by the Southern States; and 
in turn the latter had to shift for themselves when 
Washington was burned and Baltimore menaced. 
It was far otherwise in the regions lying beyond 
the Appalachians. Throughout all the fighting in 
the Northwest, where Ohio was the State most 
menaced, the troops of Kentucky formed the bulk 
of the American army, and it was the charge of 

The Young West 9 

their mounted riflemen which at a blow won the 
battle of the Thames. Again, on that famous 
January morning, when it seemed as if the fair 
Creole city was already in Pakenham's grasp, it 
was the wild soldiery of Tennessee who, lolling 
behind their mud breastworks, peered out through 
the lifting fog at the scarlet array of the English 
veterans, as the latter, fresh from their long and 
tmbroken series of victories over the best troops 
of Europe, advanced, for the first time, to meet 

This solidarity of interest and feeling on the 
part of the trans-Appalachian communities is a 
factor often not taken into account in relating 
the political history of the early part of this cen- 
tury; most modem writers (who keep forgetting 
that the question of slavery was then not one- 
tenth as absorbing as it afterward became) 
apparently deeming that the line of demarcation 
between North and South was at that period, as 
it has since in reality become, as strongly defined 
west of the mountains as east of them. That such 
was not the case was due to several different 
causes. The first comers into Tennessee and 
Kentucky belonged to the class of so-called poor 
whites, who owned few or no slaves, and who were 
far less sectionally Southern in their feelings than 
were the rich planters of the low, alluvial plains 
toward the coast of the Atlantic; and though a 

lo Thomas Hart Benton 

slave-owning population quickly followed the first 
pioneers, yet the latter had imprinted a stamp on 
the character of the two States which was never 
wholly effaced, — as witness the tens of thousands 
of soldiers which both, even the more southern of 
the two, furnished to the Union army in the Civil 

If this immigration made Kentucky and Ten- 
nessee, and afterward Missouri, less distinctively 
Southern in character than the south Atlantic 
States, it at the same time, by furnishing the first 
and for some time the most numerous element in 
the population of the States north of the Ohio, 
made the latter less characteristically Northern 
than was the case with those lying east of them. 
Up to 1810 Indiana kept petitioning Congress to 
allow slavery within her borders; Illinois, in the 
early days, felt as hostile toward Massachusetts 
as did Missouri. Moreover, at first the Southern 
States west of the mountains greatly outweighed 
the Northern, both in numbers and importance. 

Thus several things came about. In the first 
place, all the communities across the Alleghanies 
originally felt themselves to be closely knit to- 
gether by ties of blood, sentiment, and interest; 
they felt that they were, taking them altogether, 
Western as opposed to Eastern. In the next place, 
they were at first Southern rather than Northern 
in their feeling. But, in the third place, they were 

The Young West n 

by no means so extremely Southern as were the 
southern Atlantic States. This was the way in 
which they looked at themselves ; and this was the 
way in which at that time others looked at them. 
In our day Kentucky is regarded as an integral 
portion of the solid South ; but the greatest of her 
sons, Clay, was known to his own generation, not 
as a Southern statesman, but as " Harry of the 
"West." Of the two presidents, Harrison and Tay- 
lor, whom the Whigs elected, one lived in Ohio 
and one in Louisiana ; but both were chosen sim- 
ply as Western men, and, as a matter of fact, both 
were bom in Virginia. Andrew Jackson's victory 
over Adams was in some slight sense a triumph of 
the South over the North, but it was far more a 
triumph of the West over the East. Webster's 
famous sneer at old Zachary Taylor was aimed at 
him as a "frontier colonel;" in other words, 
though Taylor had a large plantation in Louisiana, 
Webster and many others besides looked upon 
him as the champion of the rough democracy of 
the West rather than as the representative of the 
polished slaveholders of the South. 

Thus, during the first part of this century, the 
term "Western" was as applicable to the States 
lying south of the Ohio as to those lying north of 
it. Moreover, at first, the Central, or, as they 
were more usually termed, the Border States, were 
more populous and influential than were those on 

12 Thomas Hart Benton 

either side of them, and so largely shaped the gen- 
eral tone of Western feeling. While the voters 
in these States, whether Whigs or Democrats, ac- 
cepted as their leaders men like Clay in Kentucky, 
Benton in IMissouri, and Andrew Jackson in Ten- 
nessee, it could be taken for granted that on the 
whole they felt for the South against the North, 
but much more for the West against the East, 
and most strongly of all for the Union as against 
any section whatsoever. Many influences came 
together to start and keep alive this feeling ; but 
one, more potent than all the others combined, was 
working steadily and with ever-increasing power 
against it ; and when slavery finally brought about 
a break between the Northern and Southern States 
of the West as complete as that in the East, then 
the Democrats of the stamp of Jackson and Benton 
disappeared as completely from public life as did 
the Whigs of the stamp of Clay. 

Benton's long political career can never be 
thoroughly understood unless it is kept in mind 
that he was primarily a Western and not a South- 
em statesman ; and it owes its especial interest to 
the fact that during its continuance the West first 
rose to power, acting as a unit, and to the further 
fact that it was brought to a close by the same 
causes which soon afterward broke up the West 
exactly as the East was already broken. Benton 
was not one of the few statesmen who have left the 

The Young West 13 

indelible marks of their own individuality upon 
our history ; but he was, perhaps, the most typical 
representative of the statesmanship of the Middle 
West at the time when the latter gave the tone to 
the poHtical thought of the entire Mississippi val- 
ley. The political school which he represented 
came to its fullest development in the so-called 
Border States of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mis- 
souri, and swayed the destinies of the West so long 
as the States to the north as well as the States to 
the south were content to accept the leadership 
of those that lay between them. It came to an 
end and disappeared from sight when people north 
of the Ohio at last set up their own standard, and 
when, after some hesitation, the Border States 
threw in their lot w4th the other side and con- 
cluded to follow the Southern communities, which 
they had hitherto led. Benton was one of those 
public men who formulate and express, rather than 
shape, the thought of the people who stand behind 
them and whom they represent. A man of strong 
intellect and keen energy, he was for many years 
the foremost representative of at least one phase of 
that thought; being, also, a man of high principle 
and determined courage, when a younger genera- 
tion had grown up and the bent of the thought had 
changed, he declined to change with it, bravely 
accepting political defeat as the alternative, and 
going down without flinching a hair's breadth 

14 Thomas Hart Benton 

from the ground on which he had always stood. 
To understand his public actions as well as his 
political ideas and principles it is, of course, neces- 
sary to know at least a little of the men among 
whom he lived and from whom he sprang, — the 
men who were the first of our people to press out 
beyond the limits of the thirteen old States ; who 
filled Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mis- 
souri, and who for so long a time were the domi- 
nant class all through the West, until, at last, 
the flood of Northeastern immigration completely 
swamped their influence north of the Ohio, while 
along the Gulf coast the political control slipped 
from their hands into the grasp of the great planter 

The wood-choppers, game-hunters, and Indian- 
fighters, who first came over the mountains, were 
only the forerunners of the more regular settlers 
who followed them ; but these last had much the 
same attributes as their predecessors. For many 
years after the settlements were firmly rooted, the 
life of the settlers was still subject to all the perils 
of the wilderness. Above all, the constant war- 
fare in which they were engaged for nearly thirty- 
five years, and which culminated in the battle of 
New Orleans, left a deep and lasting imprint on 
their character. Their incessant wars were waged 
almost wholly by the settlers themselves, with 
comparatively little help from the federal govern- 

The Young West 15 

ment, and with hardly any regular troops as allies. 
A backwoods levy, whether raised to meet an 
Indian inroad or to march against the disciplined 
armies of the British, was merely a force of volun- 
teers, made up from among the full-grown male 
settlers, who were induced to join either from 
motives of patriotism, or from love of adventure, 
or because they felt that their homes and belong- 
ings were in danger from which they could only 
extricate them by their own prowess. Every set- 
tler thus became more or less of a soldier, was 
always expert with the rifle, and was taught to 
rely upon his own skill and courage for his pro- 
tection. But the military service in which he 
was from time to time engaged was of such a 
lawless kind, and was carried on with such utter 
absence of discipline, that it did not accustom 
him in the least to habits of self-command, or 
render him inclined to brook the exercise of 
authority by an outsider; so that the Western 
people grew up with warlike traditions and habits 
of thought, accustomed to give free rein to their 
passions, and to take into their own hands the 
avenging of real or supposed wrongs, but without 
any of the love for order and for acting in concert 
with their fellows which characterize those who 
have seen service in regular armies. On the 
contrar^^ the chief effect of this long-continued 
and harassing border warfare was to make more 

i6 Thomas Hart Benton 

marked the sullen and almost defiant self-reliance 
of the pioneer, and to develop his peculiarly Amer- 
ican spirit of individual self-sufficiency, his im- 
patience of outside interference or control, to a 
degree not known elsewhere, even on this conti- 
nent. It also gave a distinct military cast to his 
way of looking at territory which did not belong 
to him. He stood where he was because he was 
a conqueror; he had wrested his land by force 
from its rightful Indian lords; he fully intended 
to repeat the same feat as soon as he should reach 
the Spanish lands lying to the west and southwest ; 
he would have done so in the case of French Louis- 
iana if it had not been that the latter was pur- 
chased, and was thus saved from being taken by 
force of arms. This belligerent, or, more properly 
speaking, piratical way of looking at neighboring 
territory, was very characteristic of the West, and 
was at the root of the doctrine of "manifest 

All the early settlers, and most of those who 
came after them, were poor, living narrow lives 
fraught with great hardship, and varying between 
toil and half -aimless roving ; even when the condi- 
tions of their life became easier, it was some time 
before the influence of their old existence ceased to 
make itself felt in their way of looking at things. 
The first pioneers were, it is true, soon followed 
by great slave owners ; and by degrees there grew 

The Young West 17 

up a clan of large landed proprietors and stock- 
raisers, akin to the planter caste which was so all- 
powerful along the coast; but it was never rela- 
tively either so large or so influential as the latter, 
and was not separated from the rest of the white 
population by anything like so wide a gap as that 
which, in the southern Atlantic and Gulf States, 
marked the difference between the rich growers 
of cotton, rice, and sugar, and the squalid "poor 
whites " or " crackers. " 

The people of the Border States were thus 
mainly composed of small landowners, scattered 
throughout the country; they tilled their small 
farms for themselves, were hewers of their own 
wood and drawers of their own water, and for 
generations remained accustomed to and skilful 
in the use of the rifle. The pioneers of the Middle 
West were not dwellers in towns ; they kept to the 
open country, where each man could shift for him- 
self without help or hindrance from his neighbors, 
scorning the irksome restraints and the lack of 
individual freedom of city life. They built but 
few cities of any size ; the only two really impor- 
tant ones of whose inhabitants they formed any 
considerable part, St. Louis and New Orleans, 
were both foimded by the French long before our 
people came across the mountains into the Missis- 
sippi valley. Their life was essentially a country 
life, alike for the rich and for the bulk of the 

18 Thomas Hart Benton 

population. The few raw frontier towns and 
squalid, straggling villages were neither seats of 
superior culture nor yet centers for the distribu- 
tion of educated thought, as in the North. Large 
tracts of land remained always populated by a 
class of backwoodsmen differing but little from 
the first comers. Such was the district from 
which grand, simple old Davy Crockett went to 
Washington as a Whig Congressman ; and perhaps 
there was never a quainter figure in our national 
legislature than that of the grim old rifleman, 
who shares with Daniel Boon the honor of stand- 
ing foremost in the list of our mighty hunters. 
Crockett and his kind had little in common with 
the men who ruled supreme in the politics of most 
of the Southern States; and even at this day 
many of their descendants in the wooded moun- 
tain lands are Republicans ; for when the ]\Iiddle 
States had lost the control of the West, and when 
those who had hitherto followed such leaders as 
Jackson, Clay, and Benton drifted with the tide 
that set so strongly to the South, it was only the 
men of the type of dogged, stubborn old Crockett 
who dared to make head against it. But, indeed, 
one of the characteristics of the people with whom 
we are dealing was the slowness and suspicion 
with which they received a new idea, and the 
tenacity with which they clung to one that they 
had at last adopted. 

The Young West 19 

They were above all a people of strong, virile 
character, certain to make their weight felt either 
for good or for evil. They had many virtues 
which can fairly be called great, and their faults 
were equally strongly marked. They were not a 
thrifty people, nor one given to long-sustained 
drudging work ; there were not then, nor are there 
now, to be found in this land such comfortable, 
prosperous homes and farms as those which dot all 
the country where dwell the men of Northeastern 
stock. They were not, as a rule, even ordinarily 
well educated ; the public school formed no such 
important feature in their life as it did in the life 
of their fellow-citizens farther north. They had 
narrow, bitter prejudices and dislikes; the hard 
and dangerous lives they had led had run their 
character into a stem and almost forbidding 
mold. They valued personal prowess very 
highly, and respected no man who did not pos- 
sess the strongest capacity for self-help, and 
who could not shift for himself in any danger. 
They felt an intense, although perhaps ignorant, 
pride in and love for their country, and looked 
upon all the lands hemming in the United States 
as territory which they or their children should 
some day inherit; for they were a race of mas- 
terful spirit, and accustomed to regard with easy 
tolerance any but the most flagrant violations of 
law. They prized highly such qualities as cour- 


Thomas Hart Benton 

age, loyalty, truth, and patriotism; but they 
were, as a whole, poor, and not overscrupulous 
of the rights of others, nor yet with the nicest 
sense of money obligations ; so that the history of 
their state legislation affecting the rights of debtor 
and creditor, whether public or private, in hard 
times, is not pleasant reading for an American who 
is proud of his country. Their passions, once roused, 
were intense, and if they really wished anything 
they worked for it with indomitable persistency. 
There was little that was soft or outwardly 
attractive in their character: it was stem, rude, 
and hard, like the lives they led ; but it was the 
character of those who were every inch men, and 
who were Americans through to the very heart's 
core. In their private lives their lawless and arro- 
gant freedom and lack of self-restraint produced 
much gross licentiousness and barbarous cruelty ; 
and every little frontier community could tell its 
story of animal savagery as regards the home rela- 
tions of certain of its members. Yet in spite of this 
they, as a whole, felt the family ties strongly, and 
in the main had quite a high standard of private 
morality. Many of them, at any rate, were, 
according to their lights, deeply and sincerely 
religious ; though even their religion showed their 
strong, coarse-fibred, narrow natures. Episco- 
palianism was the creed of the rich slave owner, 
who dwelt along the seaboard ; but the Western 

The Youne West 21 


settlers belonged to some one or other of the divis- 
ions of the great Methodist and Baptist churches. 
They were as savagely in earnest about this as 
about everything else ; meekness, mildness, broad 
liberality, and gentle tolerance of difference in 
religious views were not virtues they appreciated. 
They were always ready to do battle for their 
faith, and, indeed, had to do it, as it was quite a 
common amusement for the wilder and more 
lawless members of the community to try to 
break up by force the great camp-meetings which 
formed so conspicuous a feature in the social and 
religious life of the country. For even irreligion 
took the form of active rebellion against God, 
rather than disbelief in His existence. 

Physically they were and are, especially in Ken- 
tucky, the finest members of our race ; an exami- 
nation of the statistics relating to the volunteers 
in the Civil War shows that the natives of no other 
State, and the men from no foreign country what- 
soever, came up to them in bodily development. 

Such a people, in choosing men to represent 
them in the national councils, would naturally 
pay small heed to refined, graceful, and cultivated 
statesmanship; their allegiance would be given 
to men of abounding vitality, of rugged intellect, 
and of indomitable will. No better or more char- 
acteristic possessor of these attributes could be 
imagined than Thomas Benton. 

Benton's early life and entry into the 


March 14, 1782, near Hillsborough, in 
Orange County, N. C, the same State that 
fifteen years before, almost to a day, had seen the 
birth of the great political chief whose most promi- 
nent supporter he in after life became. Benton, 
however, came of good colonial stock; and his 
early surroundings were not characterized by the 
squalid poverty that marked Jackson's, though 
the difference in the social condition of the two 
families was of small consequence on the frontier, 
where caste was, and is, almost unknown, and 
social equality is not a mere figure of speech, — 
particularly it was not so at that time in the 
Southwest, where there were no servants except 
black slaves, and where even what in the North 
would be called "hired help" was almost an un- 
known quantity. 

Benton's father, who was a lawyer in good stand- 
ing at the North Carolina bar, died when the boy 
was very young, leaving him to be brought up by 
his Virginia mother. She was a woman of force, 
and, for her time, of much education. She herself 


Early Life 23 

began the training of her son's mind, studying 
with him history and biography, while he also, of 
course, had access to his father's law library. The 
home in which he was brought up was, for that 
time and for that part of the country, straitlaced ; 
his mother, though a Virginian, had many traits 
which belonged rather to the descendants of the 
Puritans, and possessed both their strength of 
character and their austerely religious spirit. Al- 
though living in a roistering age, among a class 
peculiarly given to all the coarser kinds of plea- 
sure, and especially to drink and every form of 
gambling, she nevertheless preserved the most 
rigid decoram and morality in her own household, 
frowning especially upon all intemperance, and 
never permitting a pack of cards to be found 
within her doors. She was greatly beloved and 
respected by the son whose mind she did so much 
to mould, and she lived to see him become one of 
the foremost statesmen of the country. 

Yoimg Benton was always fond of reading. He 
began his studies at home, and continued them at 
a grammar school taught by a young New Eng- 
lander of good ability, a very large proportion of 
the school-teachers of the country then coming 
from New England; indeed, school-teachers and 
pedlers were, on the whole, the chief contribu- 
tions made by the Northeast to the personnel of 
the new Southwest. Benton then began a course 

24 Thomas Hart Benton 

at Chapel Hill, the University of North Carolina, 
but broke off before completing it, as his mother 
decided to move her family westward to the almost 
unbroken wilderness near Nashville, Term., where 
his father had left them a large tract of land. But 
he was such an insatiable student and reader that 
he rapidly acquired a very extensive knowledge, 
not only of law, but of history and even of Latin 
and English literature, and thus became a well- 
read and cultivated, indeed a learned man ; though 
his frequent displays of learning and knowledge 
were sometimes marked by a trace of that self- 
complacent, amusing pedantry so apt to charac- 
terize a really well-educated man who lives in a 
community in which he believes, and with which 
he has thoroughly identified himself, but whose 
members are for the most part below the average 
in mental cultivation. 

The Bentons founded a little town, named after 
them, and in which, of course, they took their 
position as leaders and rich landed proprietors. It 
lay on the very outskirts of the Indian country; 
indeed, the great war trail of the southern Indians 
led right through the settlement, and they at all 
times swarmed around it. The change from the 
still somewhat rude civilization of North Carolina 
to the wilderness on the border was far less abrupt 
and startling then than would be the case under 
similar circumstances now, and the Bentons soon 

Early Life 25 

identified themselves completely with the life and 
interests of the people around them. They even 
abandoned the Episcopalianism of their old home, 
and became Methodists, like their neighbors. 
Young Benton himself had his hands full, at 
first, in attending to his great backwoods farm, 
tilled by slaves, and in pushing the growth of the 
settlement by building first a rude log school- 
house (he himself taught school at one time, while 
studying law), and a meeting-house of the same 
primitive construction, then mills, roads, bridges, 
and so forth. The work hardened and developed 
him, and he readily enough turned into a regular 
frontiersman of the better and richer sort. The 
neighboring town of Nashville was a raw, preten- 
tious place, where horse-racing, cock-fighting, 
gambling, whisk}^ - drinking, and the various 
coarse vices which masquerade as pleasures in 
frontier towns, all throve in rank luxuriance. It 
was somewhat of a change from Benton's early 
training, but he took to it kindly, and though 
never a vicious or debauched man, he bore his full 
share in the savage brawls, the shooting and stab- 
bing affrays, which went to make up one of the 
leading features in the excessively unattractive 
social life of the place and epoch. 

At that time dueling prevailed more or less 
throughout the United States, and in the South 
and West to an extent never before or since 

26 Thomas Hart Benton 

attained. On the frontier, not only did every man 
of spirit expect now and then to be called on to 
engage in a duel, but he also had to make up his 
mind to take occasional part in bloody street- 
fights. Tennessee, the State where Benton then 
had his home, was famous for the affrays that 
took place within its borders ; and that they were 
common enough among the people at large may 
be gathered from the fact that they were of con- 
tinual occurrence among judges, high state 
officials, and in the very legislature itself, where 
senators and assemblymen were always becoming 
involved in undignified rows and foolish squabbles, 
apparently without fear of exciting any unfavor- 
able comment, as witness Davy Crockett's naive 
account of his early experiences as a backwoods 
member of the Tennessee Assembly. Like Jack- 
son, Benton killed his man in a duel. This was 
much later, in 1817, when he was a citizen of Mis- 
souri. His opponent was a lawyer named Lucas. 
They fought twice, on Bloody Island, near St. 
Louis. On the first occasion both were wounded ; 
on the second Lucas was killed. The latter came 
of a truculent family. A recent biographer of his 
father. Judge John R. Lucas, remarks, with re- 
freshing imconsciousness of the grotesque humor 
of the chronicle : " This gentleman was one of the 
most remarkable men who ever settled west of 
the Mississippi River. . . . Towards the close 

Early Life 27 

of his life Judge Lucas became melancholy and 
dejected — the result of domestic afi^iction, for six 
of his sons met death by violence." One feels 
curious to know how the other sons died. 

But the most famous of Benton's affrays was 
that with Jackson himself, in 1813. This rose out 
of a duel of laughable rather than serious char- 
acter, in which Benton's brother was worsted by 
General Carroll, afterward one of Jackson's lieu- 
tenants at New Orleans. The encounter itself 
took place between the Benton brothers on one 
side, and on the other, Jackson, General Coffee, 
also of New Orleans fame, and another friend. 
The place was a great rambling Nashville inn, and 
the details were so intricate that probably not 
even the participants themselves knew exactly 
what had taken place, while all the witnesses im- 
partially contradicted each other and themselves. 
At any rate, Jackson was shot and Benton was 
pitched headlong do\\Tistairs, and all the other 
combatants were more or less damaged; but it 
ended in Jackson being carried off by his friends, 
leaving the Bentons masters of the field, where 
they strutted up and down and indulged in a good 
deal of loud bravado. Previous to this Benton 
and Jackson had been on the best of terms, and 
although there w^as naturally a temporary break 
in their friendship, yet it proved strong enough 
in the end to stand even such a violent wrench as 

28 Thomas Hart Benton 

that given by this preposterously senseless and 
almost fatal brawl. They not only became com- 
pletely reconciled, but eventually even the closest 
and warmest of personal and political friends ; for 
Benton was as generous and forgiving as he was 
hot-tempered, and Jackson's ruder nature was at 
any rate free from any small meanness or malice. 

In spite of occasional interludes of this kind, 
which must have given a rather ferocious fillip to 
his otherwise monotonous life, Benton completed 
his legal studies, was admitted to the bar, and 
began to practise as a frontier lawyer at Franklin. 
Very soon, however, he for the first time entered 
the more congenial field of politics, and in 1811 
served a single term in the lower house of the Ten- 
nessee Legislature. Even thus early he made his 
mark. He had a bill passed introducing the cir- 
cuit system into the state judiciary, a reform of 
much importance, especially to the poorer class of 
Htigants ; and he also introduced, and had enacted 
into a law, a bill providing that a slave should 
have the same right to the fuU benefit of a jury 
trial as would a white man suffering under the 
same accusation. This last measure is note- 
worthy as foreshadowing the position which 
Benton afterward took in national politics, where 
he appeared as a slaveholder, it is true, but as one 
of the most enlightened and least radical of his 
class. Its passage also showed the tendency of 

Early Life 29 

Southern opinion at the time, which was un- 
doubtedly in the direction of bettering the con- 
dition of the blacks, though the events of the 
next few years produced such a violent revulsion 
of feeling concerning the negro race that this cur- 
rent of public opinion was completely reversed. 
Benton, however, was made of sturdy stuff, and 
as he grew older his views on the question did not 
alter as did those of most of his colleagues. 

Shortly after he left the legislature the War of 
18 1 2 broke out, and its events impressed on Ben- 
ton another of what soon became his cardinal 
principles. The war was brought on by the 
South and West, the Democrats all favoring it, 
while the Federalists, forming the then anti- 
Democratic party, especially in the Northeast, 
opposed it ; and finally their more extreme mem- 
bers, at the famous Hartford Convention, passed 
resolutions supposed to tend toward the dissolu- 
tion of the Union, and which brought upon the 
party the bitter condemnation of their antag- 
onists. Says Benton himself: "At the time of 
its first appearance the right of secession was 
repulsed and repudiated by the Democracy gen- 
erally. . . . The leading language iin respect to 
it south of the Potomac was that no State had a 
right to withdraw from the Union, . . . and that 
any attempt to dissolve it, or to obstruct the 
action of constitutional laws, was treason. If 

30 Thomas Hart Benton 

since that time political parties and sectional 
localities have exchanged attitudes on this ques- 
tion, it cannot alter the question of right." For, 
having once grasped an idea and made it his own, 
Benton clung to it with unyielding tenacity, no 
matter whether it was or was not abandoned by 
the majority of those with whom he had been 
in the habit of acting. 

Thus early Benton's political character became 
molded into the shape which it ever afterward 
retained. He was a slaveholder, but as advanced 
as a slaveholder could be ; he remained to a cer- 
tain extent a Southerner, but his Southemism was 
of the type prevalent immediately after the Revo- 
lution, and not of the kind that came to the fore 
prior to the Rebellion. He was much more a 
Westerner in his feelings, and more than all else 
he was emphatically a Union man. 

Like every other hot spirit of the West — and 
the West was full of little but hot spirits — 
Benton heartily favored the War of 1812. He 
served as a colonel of volunteers under Jackson, 
but never saw actual fighting, and his short term 
of soldiership was of no further account than to 
furnish an excuse to Polk, thirty-five years later, 
for nominating him commanding general in the 
time of the Mexican war, — an incident which, as 
the nomination was rejected, may be regarded 
as merely ludicrous, the gross impropriety of the 

Early Life 31 

act safely defying criticism. He was of genuine 
use, however, in calling on and exciting the vol- 
unteers to come forward; for he was a fluent 
speaker, of fine presence, and his pompous self- 
sufficiency was rather admired than otherwise by 
the frontiersmen, while his force, energy, and 
earnestness commanded their respect. He also, 
when Jackson's reckless impetuosity got him into 
a snarl with the feeble national administration, 
whose imbecile incapacity to carry on the war 
became day by day more painfully evident, went 
to Washington, and there finally extricated his 
chief by dint of threatening that, if " justice " was 
not done him, Tennessee would, in future political 
contests, be found ranged with the administra- 
tion's foes. For Benton already possessed poHti- 
cal influence, and being, like most of his class, 
anti-Federahst, or Democratic, in sentiment, was 
therefore of the same party as the people at Wash- 
ington, and was a man whose representations 
would have some weight with them. 

During his stay in Tennessee Benton's char- 
acter was greatly influenced by his being thrown 
into close contact with many of the extraordinary 
men who then or afterward made their mark in 
the strange and picturesque annals of the South- 
west. Jackson even thus early loomed up as the 
greatest and arch-typical representative of his 
people and his section. The religious bent of the 

32 Thomas Hart Benton 

time was shown in the life of the grand, rugged old 
Methodist, Peter Cartwright, who, in the far-off 
backwoods, was a preacher and practical exponent 
of "muscular Christianity" half a century before 
the day when, under Bishop Selwyn and Charles 
Kingsley, it became a cult among the most highly 
civilized classes of England. There was David 
Crockett, rifleman and congressman, doomed to a 
tragic and heroic death in that remarkable conflict 
of which it was said at the time, that "Thermopylae 
had its messengers of death, but the Alamo had 
none;" and there was Houston, who, after a sin- 
gular and romantic career, became the greatest of 
the statesmen and soldiers of Texas. It was these 
men, and their like, who, under the shadow of 
world-old forests and in the sunlight of the great, 
lonely plains, wrought out the destinies of a nation 
and a continent, and who, with their rude war- 
craft and state-craft, solved problems that, in the 
importance of their results, dwarf the issues of all 
European struggles since the day of Waterloo as 
completely as the Punic wars in their outcome 
threw into the shade the consequences of the wars 
waged at the same time between the different 
Greek monarchies. 

Benton, in his mental training, came much 
nearer to the statesmen of the seaboard, and was 
far better bred and better educated, than the rest 
pf the men around him. But he was, and was felt 

Early Life 33 

by them to be, thoroughly one of their number, 
and the most able expounder of their views ; and 
it is just because he is so completely the type of a 
great and important class, rather than because 
even of his undoubted and commanding ability as 
a statesman, that his life and public services will 
always repay study. His vanity and boastfulness 
were faults which he shared with almost all his 
people ; and, after all, if they overrated the conse- 
quence of their own deeds, the deeds, nevertheless, 
did possess great importance, and their fault was 
slight compared to that committed by some of us 
at the present day, who have gone to the opposite 
extreme and try to belittle the actions of our 
fathers. Benton was deeply imbued with the 
masterful, overbearing spirit of the West, — a 
spirit whose manifestations are not always agree- 
able, but the possession of which is certainly a 
most healthy sign of the virile strength of a young 
community. He thoroughly appreciated that he 
was helping to shape the future of a country, 
whose wonderful development is the most im- 
portant feature in the histor>^ of the nineteenth 
century ; the non-appreciation of which fact is in 
itself sufficient utterly to disqualify any American 
statesman from rising to the first rank. 

It was not in Tennessee, however, that Benton 
rose to political prominence, for shortly after the 
close of the war he crossed the Mississippi and 

34 Thomas Hart Benton 

made his permanent home in the territory of Mis- 
souri. Missouri was then our extreme western 
outpost, and its citizens possessed the characteris- 
tic Western traits to an even exaggerated extent. 
The people were pushing, restless, and hardy; they 
were lawless and violent to a degree. In spite of 
the culture and education of some families, society, 
as a whole, was marked by florid unconvention- 
ality and rawness. The general and widespread 
intemperance of the judges and high ojfificials of 
state was even more marked than their proclivities 
for brawling. The lawyers, as usual, furnished 
the bulk of the politicians; success at the bar 
depended less upon learning than upon "push" 
and audacity. The fatal feuds between individ- 
uals and families were as frequent and as bloody 
as among Highland clans a century before. The 
following quotations are taken at random from a 
work on the Bench and Bar of Missouri, by an 
ex-judge of its supreme court: "A man by the 
name of Hiram K. Turk, and four sons, settled in 
1839 near Warsaw, and a personal difficulty oc- 
curred between them and a family of the name of 
Jones, resulting in the death of one or two. The 
people began to take sides with one or the other, 
and finally a general outbreak took place, in 
which many were killed, resulting in a general 
reign of terror and of violence beyond the power 
of the law to subdue." The social annals of this 

Early Life 35 

pleasant town of Warsaw could not normally have 
been dull; in 1844, for instance, they were en- 
livened by Judge Cherry and Senator Major fight- 
ing to the death on one of its principal streets, the 
latter being slain. The judges themselves were by 
no means bigoted in their support of law and order. 
" In those days it was common for people to settle 
their quarrels during court week. . , . Judge 
Allen took great delight in these exhibitions, and 
would at any time adjourn his court to witness 
one. . . . He (Allen) always traveled with a 
holster of large pistols in front of his saddle, and 
a knife with a blade at least a foot long." Han- 
nibal Chollop was no mere creature of fancy ; on 
the contrary, his name was legion, and he flour- 
ished rankly in every town throughout the Missis- 
sippi valley. But, after all, this ruffianism was 
really not a whit worse in its effects on the national 
character than was the case with certain of the 
"universal peace" and "non-resistance" develop- 
ments in the Northeastern States; in fact, it was 
more healthy. A class of professional non-com- 
batants is as hurtful to the real, healthy growth 
of a nation as is a class of fire-eaters ; for a weak- 
ness or folly is nationally as bad as a vice, or worse ; 
and, in the long run, a Quaker may be quite as 
undesirable a citizen as is a duelist. No man who 
is not willing to bear arms and fight for his rights 
can give a good reason why he should be entitled 

36 Thomas Hart Benton 

to the privilege of living in a free community. The 
decline of the militant spirit in the Northeast dur- 
ing the first half of this century was much to be 
regretted. To it is due, more than to any other 
cause, the undoubted average individual inferior- 
ity of the Northern compared to the Southern 
troops ; at any rate, at the beginning of the great 
war of the Rebellion. The Southerners, by their 
whole mode of living, their habits, and their love 
of outdoor sports, kept up their warlike spirit; 
while in the North the so-called upper classes 
developed along the lines of a wealthy and timid 
bourgeoisie type, measuring everything by a mer- 
cantile standard (a peculiarly debasing one if 
taken purely by itself) , and submitting to be ruled 
in local affairs by low foreign mobs, and in national 
matters by their arrogant Southern kinsmen. The 
militant spirit of these last certainly stood them 
in good stead in the Civil War. The world has 
never seen better soldiers than those who followed 
Lee; and their leader will undoubtedly rank as 
without any exception the very greatest of all the 
great captains that the English-speaking peoples 
have brought forth — and this, although the last 
and chief of his antagonists may himself claim to 
stand as the full equal of Marlborough and Wel- 

The other Western States still kept touch on the 
old colonial communities of the seacoast, having a 

Early Life 37 

second or alternative outlet through Louisiana, 
newly acquired by the United States, it is true, 
but which was nevertheless an old settled land. 
Missouri, however, had lost all connection with 
the seacoast, and though, through her great river 
towns, swarming with raftsmen and flat-boatmen, 
she drove her main and most thriving trade with 
the other I\Iississippi cities, yet her restless and 
adventure-loving citizens were already seeking 
other outlets for their activity, and were estab- 
lishing trade relations with the Mexicans; being 
thus the earliest among our people to come into 
active contact with the Hispano-Indian race from 
whom we aftenvard wrested so large a part of 
their inheritance. Missouri was thrust out beyond 
the ^Mississippi into the vast plains-country of the 
Far West, and, except on the river-front, was com- 
pletely isolated, being flanked on every side by 
great stretches of level wilderness, inhabited by 
roaming tribes of warlike Indians. Thus for the 
first time the borderers began to number in their 
ranks plainsmen as well as backwoodsmen. In 
such a community there were sure to be numbers 
of men anxious to take part in any enterprise that 
united the chance of great pecuniary gain with the 
certainty of even greater personal risk, and both 
these conditions were fulfilled in the trading ex- 
peditions pushed out from Missouri across the 
trackless wastes lying between it and the fringe 

38 Thomas Hart Benton 

of Mexican settlements on the Rio del Norte. 
The route followed by these caravans, which 
brought back furs and precious metals, soon 
became famous imder the name of the Santa Fe 
trail; and the story of the perils, hardships, and 
gains of the adventurous traders who followed it 
would make one of the most striking chapters of 
American history. 

Among such people Benton's views and habits 
of thought became more markedly Western and 
ultra-American than ever, especially in regard to 
our encroachments upon the territory of neighbor- 
ing powers. The general feeling in the West 
upon this last subject afterward crystallized into 
what became known as the "Manifest Destiny" 
idea, which, reduced to its simplest terms, was: 
that it was our manifest destiny to swallow up the 
land of all adjoining nations who were too weak to 
withstand us; a theory that forthwith obtained 
immense popularity among all statesmen of easy 
international morality. It cannot be too often 
repeated that no one can understand even the 
domestic, and more especially the foreign, policy 
of Benton and his school without first understand- 
ing the surroundings amidst which they had been 
brought up and the people whose chosen repre- 
sentatives they were. Recent historians, for 
instance, always speak as if our grasping after 
territory in the Southwest was due solely to the 

Early Life 39 

desire of the Southerners to acquire lands out of 
which to car\^e new slaveholding States, and as if 
it was merely a move in the interests of the slave 
power. This is true enough so far as the motives 
of Calhoun, Tyler, and the other public leaders of 
the Gulf and southern seaboard States were con- 
cerned. But the hearty Western support given 
to the movement was due to entirely different 
causes, the chief among them being the fact that 
the Westerners honestly believed themselves to 
be indeed created the heirs of the earth, or at least 
of so much of it as was known by the name of 
North America, and were prepared to struggle 
stoutly for the immediate possession of their 

One of Benton's earliest public utterances was 
in regard to a matter which precisely illustrates 
this feeling. It was while Missouri was still a 
territory, and when Benton, then a prominent 
member of the St. Louis bar, had by his force, 
capacity, and power as a public speaker already 
become well known among his future constituents. 
The treaty with Spain, by which we secured Flor- 
ida, was then before the Senate, which body had to 
consider it several times, owing to the dull irreso- 
lution and sloth of the Spanish government in 
ratifying it. The bounds it gave us were far too 
narrow to suit the more fiery Western spirits, and 
these cheered Benton to the echo when he attacked 

40 Thomas Hart Benton 

it in public with fierce vehemence. "The magnifi- 
cent valley of the Mississippi is ours, with all its 
fountains, springs, and floods; and woe to the 
statesman who shall undertake to surrender one 
drop of its water, one inch of its soil to any foreign 
power." So he said, his words ringing with the 
boastful confidence so well liked by the masterful 
men of the West, strong in their youth, and 
proudly conscious of their strength. The treaty 
was ratified in the Senate, nevertheless, all the old 
Southern States favoring it, and the only votes at 
any stage recorded against it being of four Western 
Senators, coming respectively from Ohio, Ken- 
tucky, Tennessee, and Louisiana. So that in 
1818, at any rate, the desire for territorial aggran- 
dizement, at the expense of Spain or ]\Iexico, was 
common to the West as a whole, both to the free 
and the slave States, and was not exclusively 
favored by the Southerners. The only effect of 
Benton's speech was to give rise to the idea that 
he was hostile to the Southern and Democratic 
administration at Washington, and against this 
feeling he had to contend in the course of his suc- 
cessful candidacy for the United States Senator- 
ship the following year, when Missouri was claim- 
ing admittance to the Union. 

It was in reference to this matter of admitting 
Missouri that the slavery question for the first 
time made its appearance in national politics, 

Early Life 41 

where it threw everything into confusion and for 
the moment overshadowed all else ; though it van- 
ished almost as quickly as it had appeared, and 
did not again come to the front for several years. 
The Northerners, as a whole, desiring to " restrict " 
the growth of slavery and the slave power, de- 
manded that IMissouri, before being admitted as a 
State, should abolish slaver^^ within her botmda- 
ries. The South was equally determined that she 
should be admitted as a slave State ; and for the 
first time the politicians of the country divided on 
geographical rather than on party lines, though 
the division proved but temporary, and was of but 
little interest except as foreshadowing what was to 
come a score of years later. Even within the ter- 
ritory itself the same contest was carried on with 
the violence bred by political conflicts in frontier 
States, there being a very respectable "restriction" 
party, which favored abolition. Benton was him- 
self a slaveholder, and as the question was in no 
way one between the East and the West, or be- 
tween the Union as a whole and any part of it, he 
naturally gave full swing to his Southern feelings, 
and entered with tremendous vigor into the con- 
test on the anti-restriction side. So successful 
were his efforts, and so great was the majority of 
the Missourians who sympathized with him, that 
the restrictionists were completely routed, and 
succeeded in electing but one delegate to the 

42 Thomas Hart Benton 

constitutional convention. In Congress the matter 
was finally settled by the passage of the famous 
Missouri Compromise bill, a measure Southern in 
its origin, but approved at the time by many if 
not most Northerners, and disapproved by not a 
few Southerners. Benton heartily believed in it, 
announcing somewhat vaguely that he was 
"equally opposed to slavery agitation and to 
slavery extension." By its terms Missouri was 
admitted as a slave State, while slavery was abol- 
ished in all the rest of the old province of Louisi- 
ana lying north and west of it and north of the 
parallel of 36° 30'. Owing to an objectionable 
clause in its Constitution, the admission was not 
fully completed until 182 1, and then only through 
the instrumentality of Henry Clay. But Benton 
took his seat immediately, and entered on his 
thirty years of service in the United States Senate. 
His appearance in national politics was thus co- 
incident with the appearance of the question 
which, it is true, almost immediately sank out of 
sight for a period of fifteen years, but which then 
reappeared to stay for good and to become of pro- 
gressively absorbing importance, until, combining 
itself with the still greater question of national 
imity, it dwarfed all other issues, cleft the West as 
well as the East asunder, and, as one of its minor 
results, brought about the political downfall of 
Benton himself and of his whole school in what 

Early Life 43 

were called the Border States. Before entering 
the Senate, Benton did something which well 
illustrates his peculiar uprightness, and the 
care which he took to keep his public acts free 
from the least suspicion of improper influence. 
When he was at the bar in St. Louis, real 
estate litigation was much the most important 
branch of legal business. The condition of Mis- 
souri land-titles was very mixed, since many of 
them were based upon the thousands of "con- 
cessions" of land made by the old French and 
Spanish governments, which had been ratified by 
Congress, but subject to certain conditions which 
the Creole inhabitants, being ignorant and law- 
less, had generally failed to fulfil. By an act of 
Congress these inchoate claims were to be brought 
before the United States recorder of land titles; 
and the Missouri bar were divided as to what 
action should be taken on them, the majority 
insisting that they should be held void, while 
Benton headed the opposite party, which w^as 
averse to forfeiting property on technical grounds, 
and advocated the confirmation of every honest 
claim. Further and important legislation was 
needed to provide for these claims. Benton, 
being much the most influential member of the 
bar who had advocated the confirmation of the 
claims, and being so able, honest, and energetic, 
was the favorite counsel of the claimants, and had 

44 Thomas Hart Benton 

hundreds of their titles tinder his professional 
charge. Of course in such cases the compensation 
of the IsLwyev depended solely upon his success; 
and success to Benton would have meant wealth. 
Nevertheless, and though his action was greatly 
to his own pecuniary hurt, the first thing he did 
when elected Senator was to convene his clients, 
and tell them that henceforth he could have 
nothing more to do, as their attorney, with the 
prosecution of their claims, giving as his reason 
that their success largely depended upon the 
action of Congress, of which he was now himself 
a member, so that he was bound to consult, not 
any private interest, but the good of the com- 
munity as a whole. He even refused to designate 
his successor in the causes, saying that he was 
determined not only to be quite unbiased in act- 
ing upon the subject of these claims as Senator, 
but not to have, nor to be suspected of having, 
any personal interest in the fate of any of them. 
Many a modem statesman might most profitably 
copy his sensitiveness. 



WHEN Benton took his seat in the United 
States Senate, Monroe, the last president 
of the great house of Virginia, was about 
beginning his second term. He was a courteous, 
high-bred gentleman, of no especial ability, but 
well fitted to act as presidential figurehead during 
the politically quiet years of that era of good feel- 
ing which lasted from 1816 till 1824. The Fed- 
eralist party, after its conduct during the war, 
had vanished into well-deserved obscurity, and 
though influences of various sorts were working 
most powerfully to split the dominant and all- 
embracing Democracy into factional fragments, 
these movements had not yet come to a head. 

The slavery question, it cannot be too often said, 
was as yet of little or no political consequence. 
The violent excitement over the admission of Mis- 
souri had subsided as quickly as it had arisen; 
and though the Compromise bill was of immense 
importance in itself, and still more as giving a hint 
of what was to come, it must be remembered that 
its effect upon general politics, during the years 
immediately succeeding its passage, was slight. 
Later on, the slavery question became of such 


46 Thomas Hart Benton 

paramount consequence, and so completely identi- 
fied with the movement for the dissolution of the 
Union, that it seems impossible for even the best 
of recent historians of American politics to under- 
stand that such was not the case at this time. One 
writer of note even goes so far as to state that 
"From the night of March 2, 1820, party history 
is made up without interruption or break of the 
development of geographical [the context shows 
this to mean Northern and Southern] parties," 
There is very little ground for such a sweeping 
assertion until a considerable time after the date 
indicated ; indeed, it was more than ten years later 
before any symptom of the development spoken of 
became at all marked. Until then, parties divided 
even less on geographical lines than had been the 
case earlier, during the last years of the existence 
of the Federalists ; and what little division there 
was had no reference to slavery. Nor was it till 
nearly a score of years after the passage of the 
Missouri Compromise bill that the separatist spirit 
began to identify itself for good w4th the idea of 
the maintenance of slavery. Previously to that 
there had been outbursts of separatist feeling in 
different States, but always due to entirely differ- 
ent causes. Georgia flared up in hot defiance of 
the federal government, when the latter rubbed 
against her on the question of removing the Cher- 
okees from within her borders. But her having 

Early Years in the Senate 47 

negro slaves did not affect her feelings in the least, 
and her attitude was just such as any Western 
State with Indians on its frontier is now apt to 
assume so far as it dares, — such an attitude as 
Arizona, for example, would at this moment take 
in reference to the Apaches, if she were able. 
Slavery was doubtless remotely one of the irritat- 
ing causes that combined to work South Carolina 
up to a fever heat of insanity over the nullification 
excitement. But in its immediate origin nullifica- 
tion arose from the outcry against the protective 
tariff, and it is almost as unfair to ascribe it in 
any way to the influence of slavery as it would 
be to assign a similar cause for the \^irginia and 
Kentucky resolutions of 1798, or to say that the 
absence of slavery was the reason for the abor- 
tively disloyal agitation in New England, which 
culminated in the Hartford Convention. The 
separatist feeling is ingrained in the fiber of our 
race, and though in itself a most dangerous fail- 
ing and weakness, is yet merely a perversion and 
distortion of the defiant and self-reliant inde- 
pendence of spirit which is one of the chief of 
the race virtues ; and slavery was partly the cause 
and partly merely the occasion of the abnormal 
growth of the separatist movement in the South. 
Nor was the tariff question so intimately associ- 
ated with that of slavery as has been commonly 
asserted. This might be easily guessed from the 

48 Thomas Hart Benton 

fact that the originator and chief advocate of a 
high tariff himself came from a slave State, and 
drew many of his warmest supporters from among 
the slaveholding sugar-planters. Except in the 
futile discussion over the proposed Panama Con- 
gress it was not till Benton's third senatorial term 
that slavery became of really great weight in 

One of the first subjects that attracted Benton's 
attention in the Senate was the Oregon question, 
and on this he showed himself at once in his true 
character as a Western man, proud alike of every 
part of his country, and as desirous of seeing the 
West extended in a northerly as in a southerly 
direction. Himself a slaveholder, from a slave 
State, he was one of the earliest and most vehe- 
ment advocates of the extension of our free terri- 
tory northward along the Pacific coast. All the 
country stretching north and south of the Oregon 
River was then held by the United States in joint 
possession with Great Britain. But the whole 
region was still entirely unsettled, and as a matter 
of fact our British rivals were the only parties in 
actual occupation. The title to the territory was 
doubtful, as must always be the case when it rests 
upon the inaccurate maps of forgotten explorers, 
or upon the chance landings of stray sailors and 
traders, especially if the land in dispute is unoc- 
cupied and of vast but uncertain extent, of little 

Early Years in the Senate 49 

present value, and far distant from the powers 
claiming it. The real truth is that such titles are 
of very little practical value, and are rightly- 
enough disregarded by any nations strong enough 
to do so. Benton's intense Americanism, and his 
pride and confidence in his country and in her 
unlimited capacity for growth of every sort, gifted 
him with the power to look much farther into the 
future, as regarded the expansion of the United 
States, than did his colleagues; and moreover 
caused him to consider the question from a much 
more far-seeing and statesmanlike standpoint. 
The land belonged to no man, and yet was sure 
to become very valuable; our title to it was not 
very good, but was probably better than that of 
any one else. Sooner or later it would be filled 
with the overflow of our population, and would 
border on our dominion, and on our dominion 
alone. It was therefore just, and moreover in 
the highest degree desirable, that it should be 
made a part of that dominion at the earliest pos- 
sible moment. Benton introduced a bill to enable 
the President to terminate the arrangement with 
Great Britain and make a definite settlement in 
our favor ; and though the Senate refused to pass 
it, yet he had the satisfaction of bringing the sub- 
ject prominently before the people, and, moreover, 
of outlining the way in which it would have to be 
and was finally settled. In one of his speeches on 

50 Thomas Hart Benton 

the matter he said, using rather highflown lan- 
guage (for he was unfortunately deficient in sense 
of humor) : ' ' Upon the people of Eastern Asia the 
establishment of a civilized power on the opposite 
coast of America could not fail to produce great 
and wonderful benefits. Science, liberal principles 
in government, and the true religion might cast 
their lights across the intervening sea. The valley 
of the Columbia might become the granary of 
China and Japan, and an outlet to their impris- 
oned and exuberant population." Could he have 
foreseen how, in the future, the Americans of the 
valley of the Columbia would greet the "impris- 
oned and exuberant population" of China, he 
would probably have been more doubtful as to 
the willingness of the latter empire to accept our 
standard of the true religion and liberal principles 
of government. In the course of the same speech 
he for the first time, and by what was then con- 
sidered a bold flight of imagination, suggested the 
possibility of sending foreign ministers to the 
Oriental nations, to China, Japan, and Persia, 
" and even to the Grand Turk." 

Better success attended a bill he introduced to 
establish a trading-road from ]\Iissouri through the 
Indian country to New Mexico, which, after much 
debate, passed both houses and was signed by 
President Monroe. The road thus marked out and 
established became, and remained for many years, 

Early Years in the Senate 51 

a great thoroughfare, and among the chief of the 
channels through which our foreign commerce 
flowed. Until Benton secured the enactment of 
this law, so important to the interests and develop- 
ment of the West, the overland trade with Mexico 
had been carried on by individual effort, and at the 
cost of incalculable hazard, hardship, and risk of 
life. Mexico, with its gold and silver mines, its 
strange physical features, its population utterly 
foreign to us in race, religion, speech, and ways of 
life, and especially because of the glamour of mys- 
tery which surrounded it and partly shrouded it 
from sight, always dazzled and strongly attracted 
the minds of the Southwestemers, occupying much 
the same place in their thoughts that the Spanish 
Main did in the imagination of England during 
the reign of Elizabeth. The young men of the 
Mississippi valley looked upon an expedition with 
one of the bands of armed traders, who wound 
their way across Indian-haunted wastes, through 
deep canyons, and over lofty mountain passes, to 
Santa Fe, Chihuahua, and Sonora, with the same 
feelings of eager excitement and longing that were 
doubtless felt by some of their forefathers more 
than two centuries previously in regard to the 
cruises of Drake and Hawkins. The long wagon 
trains or pack trains of the traders carried with 
them all kinds of goods, but especially cotton, and 
brought back gold and silver bulHon, bales of furs 

52 Thomas Hart Benton 

and droves of mules ; and, moreover, they brought 
back tales of lawless adventure, of great gains and 
losses, of fights against Indians and Alexicans, 
and of triumphs and privations, which still further 
inflamed the minds of the Western men. AVhere 
they had already gone as traders, who could on 
occasion fight, they all hoped on some future day 
to go as warriors, who would acquire gain by their 
conquests. These hopes were openly expressed, 
and with very little more idea of their being any 
right or wrong in the matter than so many Norse 
Vikings might have felt. The Southwestemers 
are credited with altogether too complex motives 
when it is supposed that they were actuated in 
regard to the conquest of northern Mexico by a 
desire to provide for additional slave States to 
offset the growth of the North ; their emotions in 
regard to their neighbors' land were in the main 
perfectly simple and purely piratical. That the 
Northeast did not share in the greed for new terri- 
tory felt by the other sections of the country was 
due partly to the decline in its militant spirit (a 
decline on many accounts sincerely to be re- 
gretted), and partly to its geographical situation, 
since it adjoined Canada, an unattractive and 
already well-settled country, jealously guarded 
by the might of Great Britain. 

Another question, on which Benton showed him- 
self to be thoroughly a representative of Western 

Early Years in the Senate 53 

sentiment, was the removal of the Indian tribes. 
Here he took a most active and prominent part in 
reporting and favoring the bills, and in advocating 
the treaties by which the Indian tribes of the 
South and West were forced or induced (for the 
latter word was very frequently used as a euphe- 
mistic synonym of the former), to abandon great 
tracts of territory to the whites and to move 
fartHer away from the boundaries of their ever- 
encroaching civilization. Nor was his action 
wholly limited to the Senate, for it was at his 
instance that General Clark, at St. Louis, con- 
cluded the treaties with the Kansas and Osage 
tribes, by which the latter surrendered to the 
United States all the vast territory which they 
nominally owned west of ^Missouri and Arkansas, 
except small reserv^es for themselves. Benton, 
as was to be expected, took the frontier view of 
the Indian question, which, by the way, though 
often wrong, is much more apt to be right than is 
the so-called humanitarian or Eastern view. But, 
so far as was compatible with having the Indians 
removed, he always endeavored to have them 
kindly and humanely treated. There was, of 
course, much injustice and wrong inevitably at- 
tendant upon the Indian policy advocated by him, 
and by the rest of the Southern and Western 
statesmen; but it is difficult to see what other 
course could have been pursued with most of the 

54 Thomas Hart Benton 

tribes. In the Western States there were then 
sixty millions of acres of the best land, owned in 
great tracts by barbarous or half-barbarous In- 
dians, who were always troublesome and often 
dangerous neighbors, and who did not come in 
any way under the laws of the States in which 
they lived. The States thus encumbered would 
evidently never have been satisfied until all their 
soil was under their own jurisdiction and open to 
settlement. The Cherokees had advanced far on 
the road toward civiHzation, and it was undoubt- 
edly a cruel grief and wrong to take them away 
from their homes ; but the only alternative would 
have been to deprive them of much of their land, 
and to provide for their gradually becoming citi- 
zens of the States in which they were. For a 
movement of this sort the times were not then, 
and, unfortunately, are not yet ripe. 

Much maudlin nonsense has been written about 
the governmental treatment of the Indians, espe- 
cially as regards taking their land. For the sim- 
ple truth is that they had no possible title to most 
of the lands we took, not even that of occupancy, 
and at the most were in possession merely by 
virtue of having butchered the previous inhabit- 
ants. For many of its actions toward them the 
government does indeed deserve the severest criti- 
cism ; but it has erred quite as often on the side 
of too much leniency as on the side of too much 

Early Years in the Senate 55 

severity. From the very nature of things, it was 
wholly impossible that there should not be much 
mutual wrong-doing and injury in the intercourse 
between the Indians and ourselves. It was 
equally out of the question to let them remain as 
they were, and to bring the bulk of their number 
up to our standard of civilization with sufficient 
speed to enable them to accommodate themselves 
to the changed condition of their surroundings. 
The policy toward them advocated by Benton, 
which was much the same as, although more 
humane than, that followed by most other West- 
em men who have had practically to face the 
problem, worked harshly in many instances and 
was the cause of a certain amount of temporary 
suffering. But it was infinitely better for the 
nation, as a whole, and, in the end, was really 
more just and merciful, than it would have been 
to attempt following out any of the visionary 
schemes which the more impracticable Indian 
enthusiasts are fond of recommending. 

It was during Monroe's last term that Henry 
Clay brought in the first protective tariff bill, as 
distinguished from tariff bills to raise revenue with 
protection as an incident only. It was passed by 
a curiously mixed vote, which hardly indicated 
any one's future position on the tariff excepting 
that of Clay himself; Massachusetts, under the 
lead of Webster, joining hands with the Southern 

56 Thomas Hart Benton 

seacoast States to oppose it, while Tennessee and 
New York split, and Missouri and Kentucky, to- 
gether with most of the North, favored it. Benton 
voted for it, but on the great question of internal 
improvements he stood out clearly for the views 
that he ever afterward held. This was first 
brought up by the veto, on constitutional grounds, 
of the Cumberland Road bill, which had previ- 
ously passed both houses with singular unanimity, 
Benton's vote being one of the very few recorded 
against it. In regard to all such matters Benton 
was strongly in favor of a strict construction of 
the Constitution and of guarding the rights of the 
States, in spite of his devoted attachment to the 
Union. While voting against this bill, and den};-- 
ing the power or the right of the federal govern- 
ment to take charge of improvements which would 
benefit one State only, Benton was nevertheless 
careful to reserve to himself the right to support 
measures for improving national rivers or harbors 
yielding revenues. The trouble is, that however 
much the two classes of cases may differ in point 
of expediency, they overlap so completely that it 
is wholly impossible to draw a hard and fast line 
between them, and the question of constitution- 
ality, if waived in the one instance, can scarcely 
with propriety be raised in the other. 

With the close of Monroe's second term the 
"era of good feeling" came to an end, and the 

Early Years in the Senate 57 

great Democratic-Republican party split up into 
several fragments, which gradually crystallized 
round two centers. But in 1824 this process was 
still incomplete, and the presidential election of 
that year was a simple scramble between four 
different candidates, — Jackson, Adams, Clay, and 
Crawford. Jackson had the greatest number of 
votes, but as no one had a majority, the election 
was thrown into the House of Representatives, 
where the Clay men, inasmuch as their candidate 
was out of the race, went over to Adams and 
elected him. Benton at the time, and afterw^ard 
in his "Thirty Years' View," inveighed against 
this choice as being a violation of what he called 
the "principle demos krateo " — a barbarous phrase 
for which he had a great fondness, and which he 
used and misused on every possible occasion, 
whether in speaking or writing. He insisted that, 
as Jackson had secured the majority of the elec- 
toral vote, it was the duty of the House of Repre- 
sentatives to ratify promptly this "choice of the 
people." The Constitution expressly provided 
that this need not be done. So Benton, who on 
questions of state rights and internal improve- 
ments was so pronounced a stickler for a strict 
construction of the Constitution, here coolly 
assumed the absurd position that the Constitu- 
tion was wrong on this particular point, and 
should be disregarded, on the ground that there 

58 Thomas Hart Benton 

was a struggle "between the theory of the Con- 
stitution and the democratic principle." His 
proposition was ridiculous. The "democratic 
principle" had nothing more to do with the mat- 
ter than had the law of gravitation. Either the 
Constitution was or it was not to be accepted as a 
serious document, that meant something; in the 
former case the election of Adams was proper in 
every respect, in the latter it was unnecessary to 
have held any election at all. 

At this period every one was floundering about 
in efforts to establish political relations, Benton 
not less than others ; for he had begun the canvass 
as a supporter of Clay, and had then gone over to 
Crawford. But at the end he had become a 
Jacksonian Democrat, and during the rest of his 
political career he figured as the most prominent 
representative of the Jacksonian Democracy in 
the Senate. Van Buren himself, afterward Jack- 
son's prime favorite and political heir, was a Craw- 
ford man during this campaign. 

Adams, after his election, which was owing to 
Clay's support, gave Clay the position of secretary 
of state in his cabinet. The affair unquestionably 
had an unfortunate look, and the Jacksonians, 
especially Jackson, at once raised a great hue and 
cry that there had been a corrupt bargain. Ben- 
ton, much to his credit, refused to join in the 
outcry, stating that he had good and sufficient 

Early Years in the Senate 59 

reasons — which he gave — to be sure of its falsity ; 
a position which brought him into temporary dis- 
favor w4th many of his party associates, and 
which a man who had Benton's ambition and 
bitter partisanship, without having his sturdy 
pluck, would have hesitated to take. The assault 
was directed with especial bitterness against Clay, 
whom Jackson ever afterward included in the 
very large list of individuals whom he hated with 
the most rancorous and unreasoning virulence. 
Randolph of Roanoke, the privileged eccentric of 
the Senate, in one of those long harangues in 
which he touched upon everybody and every- 
thing, except possibly the point at issue, made a 
rabid onslaught upon the Clay-Adams coalition 
as an alliance of "the blackleg and the Puritan." 
Clay, who was susceptible enough to the charge 
of loose living, but who was a man of rigid honor 
and rather fond than otherwise of fighting, 
promptly challenged him, and a harmless inter- 
change of shot took place. Benton was on the 
field as a friend of both parties, and his account 
of the affair is very amusing in its description of 
the solemn, hair-splitting punctilio with which 
it is evident that both Randolph and many of 
his contemporaries regarded points of dueling 
honor, which to us seem either absurd, trivial, or 
wholly incomprehensible. 

Two tolerably well-defined parties now emerged 

6o Thomas Hart Benton 

from the chaos of contending politicians : one was 
the party of the administration, whose members 
called themselves National Republicans, and later 
on Whigs ; the other was the Jacksonian Democ- 
racy. Adams's inaugural address and first mes- 
sage outlined the Whig policy as favoring a 
protective tariff, internal improvements, and a 
free construction of the Constitution generally. 
The Jacksonians accordingly took the opposite 
side on all these points, partly from principle and 
partly from perversity. In the Senate they 
assailed with turgid eloquence every administra- 
tion measure, whether it was good or bad, very 
much of their opposition being purely factious 
in character. There has never been a time when 
there was more rabid, objectless, and unscrupu- 
lous display of partisanship. Benton, little to 
his credit, was a leader in these purposeless con- 
flicts. The most furious of them, took place over 
the proposed Panama mission. This was a scheme 
that originated in the fertile brain of Henry Clay, 
whose Americanism was of a type quite as pro- 
nounced as Benton's, and who was always inclined 
to drag us into a position of hostility to European 
powers. The Spanish-American states, having 
succeeded in winning their independence from 
Spain, were desirous of establishing some principle 
of concert in action among the American republics 
as a whole, and for this purpose proposed to hold 

Early Years in the Senate 6i 

an international congress at Panama. Clay's 
fondness for a spirited and spectacular foreign 
policy made him grasp eagerl}^ at the chance of 
transforming the United States into the head of 
an American league of free republics, which would 
be a kind of cis-Atlantic offset to the Holy Alli- 
ance of European despotisms. Adams took up 
the idea, nominated ministers to the Panama Con- 
gress, and gave his reasons for his course in a 
special message to the Senate. The administra- 
tion men drew the most rosy and impossible pic- 
tures of the incalculable benefits which would be 
derived from the proposed congress; and the 
Jacksonians attacked it with an exaggerated 
denunciation that was even less justified by the 

Adams's message was properly open to attack 
on one or two points ; notably in reference to its 
proposals that we should endeavor to get the 
Spanish-American states to introduce religious 
tolerance within their borders. It was certainly 
an unhappy suggestion that we should endeavor 
to remove the mote of religious intolerance from 
oiu* brother's eye while indignantly resenting the 
least allusion to the beam of slavery in our own. 
It was on this very point of slavery that the real 
opposition hinged. The Spanish states had eman- 
cipated their comparatively small negro popula- 
tions, and, as is usuallv the case with Latin 

62 Thomas Hart Benton 

nations, did not have a very strong caste feeling 
against the blacks, some of whom accordingly had 
risen to high civic and military rank; and they 
also proposed to admit to their congress the negro 
republic of Hayti. Certain of the slaveholders 
of the South fiercely objected to any such associa- 
tion ; and on this occasion Benton for once led and 
voiced the ultra-Southern feeling on the subject, 
announcing in his speech that diplomatic inter- 
course with Hayti should not even be discussed in 
the Senate chamber, and that we could have no 
association with republics who had "black gen- 
erals in their armies and mulatto senators in their 
congresses." But this feeling on the part of the 
slaveholders against the measure was largely, 
although not wholly, spurious ; and really had less 
to do with the attitude of the Jacksonian Demo- 
crats than had a mere factious opposition to 
Adams and Clay. This was shown by the vote 
on the confirmation of the ministers, when the 
Senators divided on party and not on sectional 
lines. The nominations were confirmed, but not 
till after such a length of time that the ministers 
were unable to reach Panama until after the con- 
gress had adjourned. 

The Oregon question again came up during 
Adams's term, the administration favoring the 
renewal of the joint occupation convention, by 
which we held the country in common with Great 

Early Years in the Senate 63 

Britain. There was not much public feeling in 
the matter ; in the East there was none whatever. 
But Benton, when he opposed the renewal, and 
claimed the whole territory as ours, gave expres- 
sion to the desires of all the Westerners who 
thought over the subject at all. He was followed 
by only half a dozen Senators, all but one from 
the West, and from both sides of the Ohio — Illi- 
nois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi; the North- 
west and Southwest as usual acting together. 

The vote on the protective tariff law of 1828 
furnished another illustration of the solidarity of 
the West. New England had abandoned her free 
trade position since 1824, and the North went 
strongly for the new tariff ; the southern seacoast 
States, except Louisiana, opposed it bitterly ; and 
the bill was carried by the support of the Western 
States, both the free and the slave. This tariff 
bill was the first of the immediate irritating causes 
which induced South Carolina to go into the nulli- 
fication movement. Benton's attitude on the 
measure was that of a good many other men who, 
in their public capacities, are obliged to appear as 
protectionists, but who lack his frankness in stat- 
ing their reasons. He utterly disbelieved in and 
was opposed to the principle of the bill, but as it 
had bid for and secured the interest of Missouri 
by a heavy duty on lead, he felt himself forced to 
support it ; and so he announced his position. He 

64 Thomas Hart Benton 

simply went with his State, precisely as did Web- 
ster, the latter, in following Massachusetts' change 
of front and supporting the tariff of 1828, turning 
a full and complete somersault. Neither the one 
nor the other was to blame. Free traders are apt 
to look at the tariff from a sentimental standpoint ; 
but it is in reality purely a business matter, and 
should be decided solely on grounds of expediency. 
Political economists have pretty generally agreed 
that protection is vicious in theory and harmful in 
practice ; but if the majority of the people in in- 
terest wish it, and it affects only themselves, there 
is no earthly reason why they should not be 
allowed to try the experiment to their hearts' 
content. The trouble is that it rarely does affect 
only themselves; and in 1828 the evil was pecu- 
liarly aggravated on account of the unequal way 
in which the proposed law would affect different 
sections. It purported to benefit the rest of the 
country, but it undoubtedly worked real injury to 
the planter States, and there is small ground for 
wonder that the irritation over it in the region so 
affected should have been intense. 

During Adams's term Benton began his fight for 
disposing of the public lands to actual settlers at a 
small cost. It was a move of enormous importance 
to the whole West ; and Benton's long and sturdy 
contest for it, and for the right of preemption, en- 
title him to the greatest credit. He never gave up 

Early Years in the Senate 65 

the struggle, although repulsed again and again, 
and at the best only partially successful; for he 
had to encounter much opposition, especially from 
the short-sighted selfishness of many of the North- 
easterners, who wished to consider the public lands 
purely as sources of revenue. He utterly opposed 
the then existing system of selling land to the 
highest bidder — a most hurtful practice; and 
objected to the establishment of an arbitrary 
minimum price, which practically kept all land 
below a certain value out of the market altogether. 
He succeeded in establishing the preemption sys- 
tem, and had the system of renting public mines, 
etc., abolished; and he struggled for the principle 
of giving land outright to settlers in certain cases. 
As a whole, his theory of a liberal system of land 
distribution was undoubtedly the correct one, and 
he deserves the greatest credit for having pushed 
it as he did. 




IN the presidential election of 1828 Jackson and 
Adams were pitted against each other as the 
only candidates before the people, and Jack- 
son won an overwhelming victory. The followers 
of the two were fast developing respectively into 
Democrats and Whigs, and the parties were hard- 
ening and taking shape, while the dividing lines 
were being drawn more clearly and distinctly. 
But the contest was largely a personal one, and 
Jackson's success was due to his own immense 
popularity more than to any party principles 
which he was supposed to represent. Almost the 
entire strength of Adams was in the Northeast; 
but it is absolutely wrong to assume, because of 
this fact, that the election even remotely fore- 
shadowed the way in which party lines would be 
drawn in the coming sectional antagonism over 
slavery. Adams led Jackson in the two slave 
States of Maryland and Delaware; and in the 
free States outside of New England Jackson had 
an even greater lead over Adams. East of the 
Alleghanies it may here and there have been taken 

as in some sort a triumph of the South over the 


The Election of Jackson 67 

North; but its sectional significance, as far as it 
had any, really came from its being a victory of 
the West over the East. Infinitely more impor- 
tant than this was the fact that it represented the 
overwhelmingly successful upheaval of the most 
extreme Democratic elements in the community. 

Until 1828 all the presidents, and indeed almost 
all the men who took the lead in public life, alike 
in national and in state affairs, had been drawn 
from what in Europe would have been called the 
"upper classes." They were mainly college -bred 
men of high social standing, as well educated as 
any in the community, usually rich or at least 
well-to-do. Their subordinates in office were of 
much the same material. It was believed, and 
the belief was acted upon, that public life needed 
an apprenticeship of training and experience. 
Many of our public men had been able ; almost all 
had been honorable and upright. The change of 
parties in 1800, when the Jeffersonian Democracy 
came in, altered the policy of the government, but 
not the character of the officials. In that move- 
ment, though Jefferson had behind him the mass 
of the people as the rank and file of his party, yet 
all his captains were still drawn from among the 
men in the same social position as himself. The 
Revolutionary war had been fought under the 
leadership of the colonial gentry; and for years 
after it was over the people, as a whole, felt that 

68 Thomas Hart Benton 

their interests could be safely entrusted to and 
were identical with those of the descendants of 
their revolutionary leaders. The classes in which 
were to be found almost all the learning, the talent, 
the business activity, and the inherited wealth and 
refinement of the country, had also hitherto con- 
tributed much to the body of its rulers. 

The Jacksonian Democracy stood for the revolt 
against these rulers; its leaders, as well as their 
followers, all came from the mass of the people. 
The majority of the voters supported Jackson 
because they felt he was one of themselves, 
and because they understood that his election 
would mean the complete overthrow of the classes 
in power and their retirement from the control 
of the government. There was nothing to be said 
against the rulers of the day ; they had served the 
country and all its citizens well, and they were 
dismissed, not because the voters could truthfully 
allege any wrong-doing whatsoever against them, 
but solely because, in their purely private and 
personal feelings and habits of life, they were 
supposed to differ from the mass of the people. 
This was such an outrageously absurd feeling that 
the very men who were actuated by it, or who, 
like Benton, shaped and guided it, were ashamed 
to confess the true reason of their actions, and tried 
to cloak it behind an outcry, as vague and sense- 
less as it was clamorous, against "aristocratic 

The Election of Jackson 69 

corruption" and other shadowy and spectral 
evils. Benton even talked loosely of "retriev- 
ing the country from the deplorable condition 
in which the enlightened classes had sunk it," 
although the country was perfectly prosperous 
and in its usual state of quiet, healthy growth. 
On the other hand, the opponents of Jackson 
indulged in talk almost as wild, and fears even 
more extravagant than his supporters' hopes; 
and the root of much of their opposition lay in a 
concealed but still existent caste antagonism to 
a man of Jackson's birth and bringing up. In 
fact, neither side, in spite of all their loud talk of 
American republicanism, had yet mastered enough 
of its true spirit to be able to see that so long as 
public officers did their whole duty to all classes 
alike, it was not in the least the affair of their con- 
stituents whether they chose to spend their hours 
of social relaxation in their shirt-sleeves or in 
dress coats. 

The change was a great one ; it was not a change 
of the policy under which the government was 
managed, as in Jefferson's triumph, but of the 
men who controlled it. The two great Democratic 
victories had little in common ; almost as little as 
had the two great leaders under whose auspices 
they were respectively won, — and few men were 
ever more unlike than the scholarly, timid, and 
shifty doctrinaire, who supplanted the elder 

70 Thomas Hart Benton 

Adams, and the ignorant, headstrong, and straight- 
forward soldier, who was victor over the younger. 
That the change was the deliberate choice of the 
great mass of the people, and that it was one for 
the worse, was then, and has been ever since, the 
opinion of most thinking men ; certainly the pub- 
lic service then took its first and greatest step in 
that downward career of progressive debasement 
and deterioration which has only been checked in 
our own days. But those who would, offhand, 
decry the Democratic principle on this account 
would do well to look at the nearly contempo- 
raneous career of the pet heroes of a trans-Atlan- 
tic aristocracy before passing judgment. A very 
charming English historian of our day* has com- 
pared Wellington with Washington ; it would have 
been far juster to have compared him with Andrew 
Jackson. Both were men of strong, narrow minds 
and bitter prejudices, with few statesmanlike 
qualities, who, for brilliant military services, were 
raised to the highest civil positions in the gift of 
the State. The feeling among the aristocratic 
classes of Great Britain in favor of the Iron Duke 
was nearly as strong and quite as unreasonable as 
was the homage paid by their homelier kinsfolk 
across the Atlantic to Old Hickory. Wellington's 
military successes were far greater, for he had 
more chances ; but no single feat of his surpassed 

'Justin McCarthy. 

The Election of Jackson 71 

the remarkable victory won against his ablest 
lieutenant and choicest troops by a much smaller 
number of backwoods riflemen under Andrew 
Jackson. As a statesman Wellington may have 
done less harm than Jackson, for he had less in- 
fluence; but he has no such great mark to his 
credit as the old Tennessean's attitude toward the 
Nullifiers. If Jackson's election is a proof that 
the majority is not always right, Wellington's 
elevation may be taken as showing that the 
minority, or a fraction thereof, is in its turn quite 
as likely to be wrong. 

This caste antagonism was the distinguishing 
feature in the election of 1828, and the partially 
sectional character of the contest was due to the 
different degree of development the caste spirit 
had reached in different portions of the Union. In 
New England wealth was quite evenly distributed, 
and education and intelligence were nearly univer- 
sal; so there the antagonism was slight, the bulk 
of the New England vote being given, as usually 
before and since, in favor of the right candidate. 
In the Middle States, on the contrary, the antago- 
nism was very strong. In the South it was of but 
little political account as between the whites them- 
selves, they all being knit together by the barba- 
rous bond of a common lordship of race ; and here 
the feeling for Jackson was largely derived from 
the close kinship still felt for the West. In the 

72 Thomas Hart Benton 

West itself, where Jackson's great strength lay, 
the people were still too much on the same plane 
of thought as well as of material prosperity, and 
the wealthy and cultivated classes were of too lim- 
ited extent to admit of much caste feeling against 
the latter ; and, accordingly, instead of hostility to 
them, the Western caste spirit took the form of 
hostility to their far more numerous representa- 
tives who had hitherto formed the bulk of the 
political rulers of the East. 

New England was not only the most advanced 
portion of the Union, as regards intelligence, cul- 
ture, and general prosperity, but was also most 
disagreeably aware of the fact, and was possessed 
with a self-conscious virtue that w'as peculiarly 
irritating to the Westerners, who knew that they 
were looked down upon, and savagely resented it 
on every occasion ; and, besides. New England was 
apt to meddle in affairs that more nearly con- 
cerned other localities. Several of Benton's 
speeches at this time show this irritation against 
the Northeast, and also incidentally bring out the 
solidarity of interest felt throughout the West. 
In a long and able speech, favoring the repeal of 
the iniquitous "salt tax," or high duty on im- 
ported salt (a great hobby of his, in which, after 
many efforts, he was finally successful), he brought 
out the latter point very strongly, besides com- 
plaining of the disproportionate lightness of the 

The Election of Jackson 73 

burden imposed upon the Northeast by the high 
tariff, of which he announced himself to be but a 
moderate adherent. In common with all other 
Western statesmen he resented keenly the sus- 
picion with which the Northeast was then only 
too apt to regard the West, quoting in one of his 
speeches with angry resentment a prevalent New 
England sneer at "the savages beyond the Alle- 
ghanies." At the time we are speaking of it must 
be remembered that many even of the most ad- 
vanced Easterners were utterly incapable of 
appreciating the almost limitless capacity of their 
country for growth and expansion, being in this 
respect far behind their Western brethren; in- 
deed, many regarded the acquisition of any new 
territory in the West with alarm and regret, as 
tending to make the Union of such unwieldy size 
that it would break of its own weight. 

Benton was the leading opponent of a proposal, 
introduced by Senator Foote of Connecticut, to in- 
quire into the expediency of limiting the sales of 
public lands to such lands as were then in the 
market. The hmitation would have been most 
injurious to the entire West, which was thus men- 
aced by the action of a New Englander, while 
Benton appeared as the champion of the whole 
section. North and South alike, in the speech 
wherein he strenuously and successfully opposed 
the adoption of the resolution, and at the same 

74 Thomas Hart Benton 

time bitterly attacked the quarter of the country 
from which it came, as having from the earhest 
years opposed everything that might advance the 
interests of the people beyond the Alleghanies. 
Webster came to the assistance of the mover of 
the measure in a speech wherein, among other 
things, he claimed for the North the merit of the 
passage of the Ordinance of 1787, in relation to 
the Northwest Territory, and especially of the 
anti-slavery clause therein contained. But Ben- 
ton here caught him tripping, and in a very good 
speech showed that he was completely mistaken 
in his facts. The debate now, however, com- 
pletely left the point at issue, taking a bitterly 
sectional turn, and giving rise to the famous con- 
troversy between Hayne of South Carolina, who 
for the first time on the floor of the Senate an- 
nounced the doctrine of nullification, and Web- 
ster, who, in response to his antagonist, voiced 
the feeling of the Union men of the North in that 
wonderful and magnificent speech knowTi ever 
since under the name of the "Reply to Hayne," 
and the calling forth of which will henceforward 
be Hayne 's sole title to fame. Benton, though 
himself a strong Union and anti-nulhfication man, 
was still too excited over the subject-matter of the 
bill and the original discussion over it to under- 
stand that the debate had ranged off upon matters 
of infinitely greater importance, and entirely failed 

The Election of Jackson 75 

to realize that he had listened to the greatest piece 
of oratory of the century. On the contrary, en- 
couraged by his success earlier in the debate, he 
actually attempted a kind of reply to Webster, 
attacking him with invective and sarcasm as an 
alarmist, and taunting him with the memory of 
the Hartford Convention, which had been held 
by members of the Federalist party, to which 
Webster himself had once belonged. Benton 
afterward became convinced that Webster's 
views were by no means those of a mere alarmist, 
and frankly stated that he had been wrong in his 
position ; but at the time, heated by his original 
grievance, as a Western man against New Eng- 
land, he failed entirely to understand the true 
drift of Hayne's speech. Much of New England's 
policy to the West was certainly excessively nar- 

Jackson's administration derives a most unen- 
viable notoriety as being the one under which the 
"spoils system " became, for the first time, grafted 
on the civil service of the nation; appointments 
and removals in the public service being made de- 
pendent upon political quahfications, and not, as 
hitherto, upon merit or capacity. Benton, to his 
honor, always stoutly opposed this system. It is 
unfair to assert that Jackson was the originator of 
this method of appointment ; but he was certainly 
its foster-father, and more than any one else is 

76 Thomas Hart Benton 

responsible for its introduction into the affairs of 
the national government. Despite all the Eastern 
sneers at the "savages" of the West, it was from 
Eastern men that this most effective method of 
debauching political life came. The Jacksonian 
Democrats of the West, when they introduced it 
into the working of the federal government, sim- 
ply copied the system which they found already 
firmly established by their Eastern allies in New 
York and Pennsylvania. For many years the 
course of politics throughout the country had been 
preparing and foreshadowing the advent of the 
"spoils system." The greatest single stroke in its 
favor had been done at the instigation of Craw- 
ford, when that scheming politician was seeking 
the presidency, and, to further his ends, he pro- 
cured the passage by Congress of a law limiting 
the term of service of all public officials to four 
years, thus turning out of office all the fifty thou- 
sand public servants during each presidential 
term. This law has never been repealed, every 
low politician being vitally interested in keeping 
it as it is, and accordingly it is to be found on the 
statute-books at the present day; and though it 
has the company of some other very bad measures, 
it still remains very much the worst of all, as 
regards both the evil it has done and that which 
it is still doing. This four years' limitation law 
was passed without comment or protest, every 

The Spoils System 77 

one voting in its favor, its probable working not 
being comprehended in the least. Says Benton, 
who, with all his colleagues, voted for it: "The 
object of the law was to pass the disbursing officers 
every four years under the supervision of the 
appointing power, for the inspection of their 
accounts, in order that defaulters might be de- 
tected and dropped, while the faithful should be 
ascertained and continued. ... It was found to 
operate contrary to its intent, and to have become 
the facile means of getting rid of faithful disburs- 
ing officers, instead of retaining them." New 
York has always had a low political standard, one 
or the other of its great party and factional organ- 
izations, and often both or all of them, being at all 
times most unlovely bodies of excessively un- 
wholesome moral tone. Aaron Burr introduced 
the "spoils system" into her state affairs, and his 
methods were followed and improved upon by 
Marcy, Wright, Van Buren, and all the "Albany 
Regency." In 1829 these men found themselves 
an important constituent portion of the winning 
party, and immediately, by the help of the only 
too willing Jackson, proceeded to apply their sys- 
tem to affairs at Washington. It was about this 
time that, in the course of a debate in the Senate, 
Marcy gave utterance to the now notorious maxim, 
" To the victors belong the spoils." 

Under Adams the non-partisan character of the 

78 Thomas Hart Benton 

public service had been guarded with a scrupulous 
care that could almost be called exaggerated. In- 
deed, Adams certainly went altogether too far in 
his non-partisanship when it came to appointing 
cabinet and other high officers, his views on such 
points being not only fantastic, but absolutely 
wrong. The colorless character of his administra- 
tion was largely due to his having, in his anxiety to 
avoid blind and unreasoning adherence to party, 
committed the only less serious fault of paying too 
little heed to party; for a healthy party spirit is 
prerequisite to the performance of effective work 
in American political life. Adams was not elected 
purely for himself, but also on account of the men 
and the principles that he was supposed to repre- 
sent ; and when he partly surrounded himself with 
men of opposite principles, he just so far, though 
from the best of motives, betrayed his supporters, 
and rightly forfeited much of their confidence. 
But, under him, every public servant felt that, so 
long as he faithfully served the State, his position 
was secure, no matter what his political opinions 
might be. 

With the incoming of the Jacksonians all this 
changed, and terribly for the worse. A perfect 
reign of terror ensued among the office-holders. 
In the first month of the new administration more 
removals took place than during all the previous 
administrations put together. Appointments were 

The Spoils System 79 

made with little or no attention to fitness, or even 
honesty, but solely because of personal or political 
services. Removals were not made in accordance 
with any known rule at all; the most frivolous 
pretexts were sufficient, if advanced by useful poli- 
ticians who needed places already held by capable 
incumbents. Spying and tale-bearing became 
prominent features of official life, the meaner 
office-holders trying to save their own heads by 
denouncing others. The very best men were un- 
ceremoniously and causelessly dismissed; gray- 
headed clerks, who had been appointed by the 
earlier presidents, — by Washington, the elder 
Adams, and Jefferson, — being turned off at an 
hour's notice, although a quarter of a century's 
faithful work in the public service had unfitted 
them to earn their living elsewhere. Indeed, it 
was upon the best and most efficient men that the 
blow fell heaviest; the spies, tale-bearers, and 
tricksters often retained their positions. In 1829 
the public service was, as it always had been, ad- 
ministered purely in the interest of the people; 
and the man who was styled the especial cham- 
pion of the people dealt that service the heaviest 
blow it has ever received. 

Benton himself always took a sound stand on 
the civil service question, although his partisan- 
ship led him at times to defend Jackson's course 
when he must have known well that it was 

8o Thomas Hart Benton 

indefensible. He viewed with the greatest alarm 
and hostility the grow^th of the" spoils system, "and 
early introduced, as chairman of a special commit- 
tee, a bill to repeal the harmful four years' limita- 
tion act. In discussing this proposed bill after- 
w^ard, he wrote, in words that apply as much at 
this time as they did then : "The expiration of the 
four years' term came to be considered as the ter- 
mination and vacation of all the offices on w^hich it 
fell, and the creation of vacancies to be filled at 
the option of the President. The bill to remedy 
this defect gave legal effect to the original inten- 
tion of the law by confining the vacation of ofiQce 
to actual defaulters. The power of the President 
to dismiss civil officers was not attempted to be 
curtailed, but the restraints of responsibility were 
placed upon its exercise by requiring the cause of 
dismission to be communicated to Congress in each 
case. The section of the bill to that effect was in 
these w^ords : That in all nominations made by the 
President to the Senate, to fill vacancies occasioned 
by an exercise of the President's power to remove 
from office, the fact of the removal shall be stated to 
the Senate at the same time that the nomination is 
made, with a statement of the reasons for which such 
officer may have been removed. This was intended 
to operate as a restraint upon removals without 

In the "Thirty Years' View" he again writes, 

The Spoils System 8r 

in language which would be appropriate from 
every advanced civil service reformer of the pres- 
ent day, that is, from every disinterested man who 
has studied the workings of the "spoils system" 
with any intelligence : 

I consider "sweeping" removals, as now practised 
by both parties, a great political evil in our country, 
injurious to individuals, to the public service, to the 
purity of elections, and to the harmony and union of 
the people. Certainly no individual has a right to an 
office; no one has an estate or property in a public 
employment; but when a mere ministerial worker 
in a subordinate station has learned its duties by 
experience and approved his fidelity by his conduct, 
it is an injury to the public service to exchange him 
for a novice whose only title to the place may be a 
political badge or partisan service. It is exchanging 
experience for inexperience, tried ability for untried, 
and destroying the incentive to good conduct by de- 
stroying its reward. To the party displaced it is an 
injury, he having become a proficient in that business, 
expecting to remain in it during good behavior, and 
finding it difficult, at an advanced age, and with 
fixed habits, to begin a new career in some new walk 
of life. It converts elections into scrambles for office, 
and degrades the government into an office for re- 
wards and punishments ; and divides the people of the 
Union into adverse parties, each in its turn, and as it 
becomes dominant, to strip and proscribe the other. 

Benton had now taken the position which he 
was for many years to hold, as the recognized sen- 
atorial leader of a great and well-defined party. 

82 Thomas Hart Benton 

Until 1828 the prominent political chiefs of the 
nation had either been its presidents, or had been 
in the cabinets of these presidents. But after 
Jackson's time they were in the Senate, and it was 
on this body that public attention was concen- 
trated. Jackson's cabinet itself showed such a 
falling off, when compared with the cabinets of 
any of his predecessors, as to justify the caustic 
criticism that, when he took office, there came in 
" the millennium of the minnows." In the Senate, 
on the contrary, there were never before or since so 
many men of commanding intellect and powers. 
Calhoun had been elected as vice-president on the 
Jacksonian ticket, and was thus, in 1829, presid- 
ing over the body of which he soon became an 
active member; Webster and Clay were already 
taking their positions as the leaders of the great 
National Republican, or, as it was afterward 
called. Whig party. 

When the rupture between Calhoun and the 
Jacksonian Democrats, and the resignation of the 
former from the vice-presidency took place, three 
parties developed in the United States Senate. 
One was composed of the Jacksonian Democrats, 
with Benton at their head ; one was made up of 
the little band of Nullifiers, led by Calhoun ; and 
the third included the rather loose array of the 
Whigs, under Clay and Webster. The feeling 
of the Jacksonians toward Calhoun and the 

The Spoils System 83 

Nullifiers and toward Clay and the Clay Whigs 
were largely those of personal animosity ; but they 
had very little of this sentiment toward Webster 
and his associates, their differences with them 
being on questions of party principle, or else 
proceeding from merely sectional causes. 



DURING both Jackson's presidential terms 
he and his adherents were engaged in two 
great struggles : that with the Nullifiers, 
and that with the Bank. Although these strug- 
gles were in part synchronous, it will be easier to 
discuss each by itself. 

The nullification movement in South Carolina, 
during the latter part of the third and early part 
of the fourth decades in the present century, had 
nothing to do, except in the most distant way, 
with slavery. Its immediate cause was the high 
tariff; remotely it sprang from the same feelings 
which produced the Virginia and Kentucky reso- 
lutions of 1798. 

Certain of the slave States, including those 
which raised hemp, indigo, and sugar, were high- 
tariff States; indeed, it was not till toward the 
close of the presidency of IMonroe that there had 
been much sectional feeling over the policy of pro- 
tection. Originally, while we were a purely agri- 
cultural and mercantile people, free trade was the 
only economic policy which occurred to us as possi- 
ble to be followed, the first tariff bill being passed 
in 1 81 6. South Carolina then was inclined to 


The Struggle with the Nullifiers 85 

favor the system, Calhoun himself supporting the 
bill, and, his subsequent denials to the contrary 
notwithstanding, distinctly advocating the policy 
of protection to native industries; while Massa- 
chusetts then and afterward stoutly opposed its 
introduction, as hostile to her interests. However, 
the bill was passed, and Massachusetts had to sub- 
mit to its operation. After 18 16, new tariff laws 
were enacted about every four years, and soon the 
coast slave States, except Louisiana, realized that 
their working was hurtful to the interests of the 
planters. New England also changed her attitude ; 
and when the protective tariff bill of 1828 came 
up, its opponents and supporters were sharply 
divided by sectional lines. But these lines were 
not such as would have divided the States on the 
question of slavery. The Northeast and North- 
west alike favored the measure, as also did all the 
Southern States west of the Alleghanies, and Lou- 
isiana. It was therefore passed by an overwhelm- 
ing vote, against the solid opposition of the belt of 
Southern coast States stretching from Virginia to 
Mississippi, and including these two. 

The States that felt themselves harmed by the 
tariff did something more than record their disap- 
proval by the votes of their representatives in Con- 
gress. They nearly all, through their legislatures, 
entered emphatic protests against its adoption, as 
being most harmful to them and dangerous to the 

86 Thomas Hart Benton 

Union ; and some accompanied their protests with 
threats as to what would be done if the obnox- 
ious laws should be enforecd. They certainly 
had grounds for discontent. In 1828 the tariff, 
whether it benefited the country as a whole or not, 
unquestionably harmed the South; and in a fed- 
eral Union it is most unwise to pass laws which 
shall benefit one part of the community to the 
hurt of another part, when the latter receives no 
compensation. The truculent and unyielding atti- 
tude of the extreme protectionists was irritating in 
the extreme ; for cooler men than the South Caro- 
linians might well have been exasperated at such 
an utterance as that of Henry Clay, when he stated 
that for the sake of the "American system" — by 
which title he was fond of styling a doctrine 
already ancient in medieval times — he would 
"defy the South, the President, and the devil." 

On the other hand, both the good and the 
evil effects of the tariff were greatly exaggerated. 
Some harm to the planter States was doubtless 
caused by it; but their falling back, as-compared 
with the North, in the race for prosperity, was 
doubtless caused much more by the presence of 
slavery, as Dallas of Pennsylvania pointed out in 
the course of some very temperate and moderate 
remarks in the Senate. Clay's assertions as to 
what the tariff had done for the West were equally 
ill-founded, as Benton showed in a good speech, 

The StruQ^cfle with the Nullifiers 87 

wherein he described picturesquely enough the in- 
dustries and general condition of his portion of the 
country, and asserted with truth that its revived 
prosperity was due to its own resources, entirely 
independent of federal aid or legislation. He 
said : " I do not think we are indebted to the high 
tariff for our fertile lands and our navigable rivers ; 
and I am certain we are indebted to these blessings 
for the prosperity we enjoy." " In all that comes 
from the soil the people of the West are rich. 
They have an abundant supply of food for man 
and beast, and a large surplus to send abroad. 
They have the comfortable living which industry 
creates for itself in a rich soil, but beyond this 
they are poor. . . . They have no roads paved or 
macadamized ; no canals or aqueducts ; no bridges 
of stone to cross the innumerable streams ; no edi- 
fices dedicated to eternity ; no schools for the fine 
arts; not a public library for which an ordinary 
scholar would not apologize." Then he went on 
to speak of the commerce of the West and its 
exports, "the marching myriads of living animals 
annually taking their departure from the heart of 
the West, defiling through the gorges of the Cimi- 
berland, the Alleghany, and the Appalachian 
Mountains, or traversing the plains of the South, 
diverging as they march, . . . and the flying 
steamboats and the fleets of floating arks, loaded 
with the products of the forest, the farm, and the 

88 Thomas Hart Benton 

pasture, following the courses of our noble rivers, 
and bearing their freights to the great city" of 
New Orleans. 

Unfortunately Benton would interlard even his 
best speeches with theories of economics often 
more or less crude, and, still worse, with a series 
of classic quotations and allusions; for he was 
grievously afflicted with the rage for cheap pseudo- 
classicism that Jefferson and his school had bor- 
rowed from the French revolutionists. Nor could 
he resist the temptation to drag in allusions to 
some favorite hobby. The repeal of the salt tax 
was an especial favorite of his. He was perfectly 
right in attacking the tax, and deserves the great- 
est credit for the persistency which finally won 
him the victory. But his associates, unless of a 
humorous turn of mind, must have found his allu- 
sions to it rather tiresome, as when, apropos of 
the commerce of the Mississippi, and without any 
possible excuse for speaking of the iniquity of 
taxing salt, he suddenly alluded to New Orleans 
as ' ' that great city which revives upon the banks 
of the Mississippi the name of the greatest of the 
emperors' that ever reigned upon the banks of 
the Tiber, and who eclipsed the glory of his own 
heroic exploits by giving an order to his legions 
never to levy a contribution of salt upon a Roman 

' Aurelian. 

The Strugrorle with the Nullifiers Sg 

It must be admitted that the tariff did some 
harm to the South, and that it was natural for the 
latter to feel resentment at the way in which it 
worked. But it must also be remembered that no 
law can be passed which does not distribute its 
benefits more or less unequally, and which does 
not, in all probability, work harm in some cases. 
Moreover, the South was estopped from complain- 
ing of one section being harmed by a law that 
benefited, or was supposed to benefit, the country 
at large, by her position in regard to the famous 
embargo and non-importation acts. These in- 
flicted infinitely more damage and loss in New 
England than any tariff law could inflict on South 
Carolina, and, moreover, were put into execution 
on accoimt of a quarrel with England forced on by 
the West and South contrary to the desire of the 
East. Yet the Southerners were fierce in their 
denunciations of such of the Federalists as went to 
the extreme in opposition to them. Even in 1816 
^lassachusetts had been obliged to submit with 
good grace to the workings of a tariff which she 
deemed hostile to her interests, and which many 
Southerners then advocated. Certainly, even if 
the new tariff laws were ill-advised, unjust, and 
unequal in their working, yet they did not, in the 
most remote degree, justify any effort to break up 
the Union ; especially the South had no business 
to complain when she herself had joined in laying 

90 Thomas Hart Benton 

heavier burdens on the shoulders of New England. 
Complain she did, however; and soon added 
threats to complaints, and was evidently ready to 
add acts to threats. Georgia, at first, took the 
lead in denunciation; but South Carolina soon 
surpassed her, and finally went to the length of 
advocating and preparing for separation from the 
Union ; a step that produced a revulsion of feeling 
even among her fellow anti- tariff States. The 
South Carolinian statesmen now proclaimed the 
doctrine of nulHfication, — that is, proclaimed that 
if any State deemed a federal law improper, it 
could proceed to declare that law null and void so 
far as its own territory was concerned, — and, as a 
corollary, that it had the right forcibly to prevent 
execution of this void law within its borders. This 
was proclaimed, not as an exercise of the right of 
revolution, which, in the last resort, belongs, of 
course, to every community and class, but as a 
constitutional privilege. Jefferson was quoted as 
the father of the idea, and the Kentucky resolu- 
tions of 1798-99, which he drew, were cited as the 
precedent for the South Carolinian action. In 
both these last assertions the Nullifiers were cor- 
rect. Jefferson was the father of nullification, 
and therefore of secession. He used the word 
''nulHfy" in the original draft which he suppHed 
to the Kentucky Legislature, and though that 
body struck it out of the resolutions which they 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 91 

passed in 1798, they inserted it in those of the 
following year. This was done mainly as an un- 
scrupulous party move on Jefferson's part, and 
when his side came into power he became a firm 
upholder of the Union; and, being constitution- 
ally unable to put a proper value on truthfulness, 
he even denied that his resolutions could be con- 
strued to favor nullification — though they could 
by no possibility be construed to mean anything 

At this time it is not necessary to discuss nullifi- 
cation as a constitutional dogma ; it is an absurd- 
ity too great to demand serious refutation. The 
United States has the same right to protect itself 
from death by nullification, secession, or rebellion, 
that a man has to protect himself from death by 
assassination. Calhoun's hair-splitting and meta- 
physical disquisitions on the constitutionality of 
nullification have now little more practical interest 
than have the extraordinary arguments and dis- 
cussions of the school-men of the Middle x\ges. 

But at the time they were of vital interest, for 
they were words which it was known South Caro- 
lina was prepared to back up by deeds. Calhoun 
was vice-president, the second officer in the federal 
government, and yet also the avowed leader of the 
most bitter disunionists. His State supported him 
by an overwhelming majority, although even with- 
in its o-UTi borders there was an able opposition, 

95 Thomas Hart Benton 

headed by the gallant and loyal family of the 
Draytons, — the same family that afterward fur- 
nished the captain of Farragut's flagship, the 
glorious old Hartford. There was a strong senti- 
ment in the other Southern States in his favor; 
the public men of South Carolina made speech 
after speech goading him on to take even more 
advanced ground. 

In Washington the current at first seemed to be 
all setting in favor of the Nullifiers; they even 
counted on Jackson's support, as he was a South- 
erner and a states' -rights man. But he was also a 
strong Unionist, and, moreover, at this time, felt 
very bitterly toward Calhoun, with whom he had 
just had a split, and had in consequence remiodeled 
his cabinet, thrusting out all Calhoun's supporters, 
and adopting Van Buren as his political heir, — the 
position which it was hitherto supposed the great 
Carolina separatist occupied. 

The first man to take up the gauntlet the Nulli- 
fiers had thrown down was Webster, in his famous 
reply to Hayne. He, of course, voiced the senti- 
ment of the Whigs, and especially of the North- 
east, where the high tariff was regarded with 
peculiar favor, where the Union feeling was 
strong, and where there was a certain antagonism 
felt toward the South. The Jacksonian Demo- 
crats, whose strength lay in the West, had not yet 
spoken. They were, for the most part, neither 

The Struggles with the Nullifiers 93 

ultra-protectionists nor absolute free-traders; 
Jackson's early presidential utterances had given 
offense to the South by not condemning all high- 
tariff legislation, but at the same time had de- 
clared in favor of a much more moderate degree 
of protection than suited the Whigs. Only a few 
weeks after Webster's speech Jackson's chance 
came, and he declared himself in unmistakable 
terms. It was on the occasion of the Jefferson 
birthday banquet, April 13, 1830. An effort was 
then being made to have Jefferson's birthday cele- 
brated annually ; and the Nullifiers, rightly claim- 
ing him as their first and chief apostle, attempted 
to turn this particular feast into a demonstration 
in favor of nullification. Most of the speakers 
present were actively or passively in favor of the 
movement, and the toasts proposed strongly 
savored of the new doctrine. But Jackson, Ben- 
ton, and a number of other Union men were in 
attendance also, and when it came to Jackson's 
turn he electrified the audience by proposing: 
"Our federal Union; it must be preserved." 
Calhoun at once answered with: "The Union; 
next to our liberty the most dear; may we all 
remember that it can only be preserved by re- 
specting the rights of the States and distributing 
equally the benefit and burden of the Union." 
The issue between the President and the "Vice- 
President was now complete, and the Jacksonian 

94 Thomas Hart Benton 

Democracy was squarely committed against nulli- 
fication. Jackson had risen to the occasion as 
only a strong and a great man could rise, and his 
few, telling words, finely contrasting at every 
point with Calhoun's utterances, rang throughout 
the whole country, and will last as long as our 
government. One result, at least, the Nullifiers 
accomplished, — they completely put an end to the 
Jefferson birthday celebrations. 

The South Carolinians had no intention of 
flinching from the contest which they had pro- 
voked, even when they saw that the North and 
West were united against them, and though the 
tide began to set the same way in their sister 
States of the South; North Carolina, among the 
latter, being the first and most pronounced in her 
support of the President and denunciation of the 
Nullifiers. The men of the Palmetto State have 
always ranked high for hot-headed courage, and 
they soon showed that they had wills as fiery as 
that of Jackson himself. Yet in the latter they 
had met an antagonist well worthy of any foeman's 
steel. In declining an invitation to be present at 
Charleston, on July 4, 183 1, the President again 
defined most clearly his position in favor of the 
Union, and his words had an especial significance 
because he let it be seen that he was fully deter- 
mined to back them up by force if necessary. But 
his letter only had the effect of inflaming still 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 95 

more the minds of the South Carolinians. The 
prime cause of irritation, the tariff, still remained ; 
and in 1832, Clay, having entered the Senate after 
a long retirement from politics, put the finishing 
stroke to their anger by procuring the passage of 
a new tariff bill, which left the planter States 
almost as badly off as did the law of 1828. Jack- 
son signed this, although not believing that it went 
far enough in the reduction of duties. 

In the presidential election of 1832, Jackson 
defeated Clay by an enormous majority; Van 
Buren was elected vice-president, there being thus 
a Northern man on the ticket. South Carolina 
declined to take part in the election, throwing 
away her vote. Again, it must be kept in mind 
that the slave question did not shape, or, indeed, 
enter into this contest at all, directly, although 
beginning to be present in the background as a 
source of irritation. In 1832 there was tenfold 
more feeling in the North against masonry and 
secret societies generally, than there was against 

Benton threw himself in, heart and soul, with 
the Union party, acting as Jackson's right-hand 
man throughout the contest with South Carolina, 
and showing an even more resolute and unflinch- 
ing front than Old Hickory himself. No better or 
trustier ally than the Missouri statesman, in a hard 
fight for a principle, could be desired. He was 

96 Thomas Hart Benton 

intensely national in all his habits of thought ; he 
took a deep, personal pride in all his country, — 
North, South, East, and West, He had been very 
loath to believe that any movement hostile to the 
Union was really on foot; but once thoroughly 
convinced of it he chose his own line of action 
without an instant's hesitation. 

A fortnight after the presidential election South 
Carolina passed her ordinance of nullification, di- 
rected against the tariff laws generally, and against 
those of 1828 and 1832 in particular. The ordi- 
nance was to take effect on February i ; and if, 
meantime, the federal government should make 
any attempt to enforce the laws, the fact of such 
attempt was to end the continuance of South Caro- 
lina in the Union. 

Jackson promptly issued a proclamation against 
nullification, composed jointly by himself and the 
great Louisiana jurist and statesman, Livingston. 
It is one of the ablest, as well as one of the most 
important, of all American state papers. It is 
hard to see how any American can read it now 
without feeling his veins thrill. Some claim it as 
being mainly the work of Jackson, others as that 
of Livingston ; it is great honor for either to have 
had a hand in its production. 

In his annual message the President merely re- 
ferred, in passing, to the NulHfiers, expressing his 
opinion that the action in reducing the duties. 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 97 

which the extinction of the pubHc debt would per- 
mit and require, would put an end to the proceed- 
ings. As matters grew more threatening, how- 
ever, South Carolina making every preparation 
for war, and apparently not being conciliated in 
the least by the evident desire in Congress to meet 
her more than half way on the tariff question, 
Jackson sent a special message to both houses. 
He had already sent General Scott to Charleston, 
and had begun the concentration of certain mili- 
tary and naval forces in or near the state bounda- 
ries. He now asked Congress to pass a measure 
to enable him to deal better with possible resist- 
ance to the laws. South Carolina having com- 
plained of the oppressed condition in which she 
fomid herself, owing to the working of the tariff, 
Jackson, in his message, with some humor, quoted 
in reply the last Thanksgiving proclamation of 
her governor, wherein he dilated upon the State's 
unexampled prosperity and happiness. 

It must always be kept in mind in describing 
the attitude of the Jacksonian Democrats toward 
the Nullifiers, that they were all along, especially 
in the West, hostile to a very high tariff. Jackson 
and Benton had always favored a much lower 
tariff than that established in 1828 and hardly 
changed in 1832. It was no change of front on 
their part now to advocate a reduction of duties. 
Jackson and Benton both felt that there was much 

98 Thomas Hart Benton 

ground for South Carolina's original complaint, 
although as strongly opposed to her nullification 
attitude as any Northerner. ^lost of the Southern 
senators and representatives, though opposed to 
nullification, were almost equally hostile to the 
high tariff ; and very many others were at heart in 
sympathy with nullification itself. The intensely 
national and anti-separatist tone of Jackson's dec- 
laration, — a document that might well have come 
from Washington or Lincoln, and that would have 
reflected high honor on either, — though w^armly 
approved by Benton, was very repugnant to many 
of the Southern Democrats, and was too much even 
for certain of the Whigs. In fact, it reads like 
the utterance of some great Federalist or Repub- 
lican leader. The feeling in Congress as a w^hole 
was as strong against the tariff as it was against 
nullification; and Jackson had to take this into 
account, all the more because not only was he in 
some degree of the same way of thinking, but also 
many of his followers entertained the sentiment 
even more earnestly. 

Calhoun introduced a series of nulhfication 
resolutions into the Senate, and defended them 
strongly in the prolonged constitutional debate 
that followed. South CaroHna meanwhile put off 
the date at which her decrees were to take effect, 
so that she might see what Congress would do. 
Beyond question, Jackson's firmness, and the way 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 99 

in which he was backed up by Benton, Webster, 
and their followers, was having some effect. He 
had openly avowed his intention, if matters went 
too far, of hanging Calhoim "higher than Haman." 
He unquestionably meant to imprison him, as well 
as the other South Carolina leaders, the instant 
that State came into actual collision with the 
Union; and to the end of his life regretted, and 
with reason, that he had not done so without wait- 
ing for an overt act of resistance. Some his- 
torians have treated this as if it were an idle threat ; 
but such it certainly was not. Jackson undoubt- 
edly fully meant what he said, and would have 
acted promptly had the provocation occurred, 
and, moreover, he would have been sustained by 
the country. He was not the man to weigh 
minutely what would and what would not fall 
just on one side or the other of the line defining 
treason ; nor was it the time for too scrupulous 
adherence to precise wording. Had a collision 
occurred, neither Calhoun nor his colleague would 
ever have been permitted to leave Washington ; 
and brave though they were, the fact unquestion- 
ably had much influence with them. 

Webster was now acting heartily with Benton. 
He introduced a set of resolutions which showed 
that in the matters both of the tariff and of nullifi- 
cation his position was much the same as was that 
of the Missourian. Unfortunately Congress as a 

loo Thomas Hart Benton 

whole was by no means so stiff -kneed. A certain 
number of Whigs followed Webster, and a certain 
number of Democrats clung to Benton ; but most 
Southerners were very reluctant to allow pressure 
to be brought to bear on South Carolina, and many 
Northerners were as willing to compromise as 
Henry Clay himself. In accordance with Jack- 
son's recommendations two bills were introduced: 
one the so-called " Force Bill," to allow the Presi- 
dent to take steps to defend the federal authority 
in the event of actual collision; and the other a 
moderate, and, on the whole, proper tariff bill, to 
reduce protective duties. Both were introduced 
by administration supporters. Benton and Web- 
ster warmly sustained the "Force Bill," which 
was bitterly attacked by the Nullifiers and by 
most of the Southerners, who really hardly knew 
what stand to take, the leading opponent being 
Tyler of Virginia, whose disunion attitude was 
almost as clearly marked as that of Calhoun him- 
self. The measure was eminently just, and was 
precisely what the crisis demanded ; and the Sen- 
ate finally passed it and sent it to the House. 

All this time an obstinate struggle was going on 
over the tariff bill. Calhoun and his sympathizers 
were beginning to see that there was real danger 
ahead, alike to themselves, their constituents, and 
their principles, if they folloM^ed unswervingly the 
course they had laid down; and the weak-kneed 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers loi 

brethren on the other side, headed by Clay, were 
becoming even more uneasy. Calhoun wished to 
avert collision with the federal government ; Gay 
was quite as anxious to avoid an outbreak in the 
South and to save what he could of the protective 
system, which was evidently doomed. Calhoun 
was willing to sacrifice some of his constitutional 
theories in regard to protection ; Clay was ready 
greatly to reduce protection itself. Each of them, 
but especially Clay, was prepared to shift his stand 
somewhat from that of abstract moral right to 
that of expediency. Benton and Webster were 
too resolute and determined in their hostility to 
any form of yielding to South Carolina's insolent 
defiance to admit any hope of getting them to 
accept a compromise ; but the majority of the 
members were known to be only too ready to jump 
at any half-way measure which would patch up the 
affair for the present, no matter what the sacrifice 
of principle or how great the risk incurred for the 
future. Accordingly, Clay and Calhoun met and 
agreed on a curious bill, in reality recognizing the 
protective system, but making a great although 
gradual reduction of duties ; and Clay introduced 
this as a "compromise measure." It was substi- 
tuted in the House for the administration tariff bill, 
was passed and sent to the Senate. It gave South 
Carolina much, but not all, that she demanded. 
Her representatives announced themselves 

I02 Thomas Hart Benton 

satisfied, and supported it, together with all 
their Southern sympathizers; Webster and Ben- 
ton fought it stoutly to the last, but it was passed 
by a great majority; a few Northerners followed 
Webster, and Benton received fair support from 
his Missouri colleagues and the Maryland senators ; 
the other senators, Whigs and Democrats alike, 
voted for the measure. Many of the Southerners 
were imbued with separatist principles, although 
not yet to the extent that Calhoun was; others, 
though Union men, did not possess the unflinch- 
ing will and stem strength of character that en- 
abled Benton to stand out against any section of 
the country, even his own, if it was wrong. Silas 
Wright of New York, a typical Northern ' ' dough- 
face" politician, gave exact expression to the 
"dough-face" sentiment, which induced Northern 
members to vote for the compromise, when he 
stated that he was unalterably opposed to the 
principle of the bill, but that on account of the 
attitude of South Carolina, and of the extreme 
desire which he had to remove all cause of dis- 
content in that State, and in order to enable her 
again to become an affectionate member of the 
Union, he would vote for what was satisfactory 
to her, although repugnant to himself. Wright, 
Marcy, and their successors in New York politics, 
almost up to the present day, certainly carried 
cringing subserviency to the South to a pitch that 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 103 

was fairly sublime. The "Force Bill" and the 
compromise tariff bill passed both houses nearly 
simultaneously, and were sent up to the President, 
who signed both on the same day. His signing 
the compromise bill was a piece of weakness out 
of keeping with his whole character, and especially 
out of keeping with his previous course toward 
the Nullifiers. The position assumed by Ben- 
ton and Webster that South Carolina should be 
made to submit first and should have the justice 
of her claims examined into afterward, was 
unquestionably the only proper attitude. 

My objections to this bill, and to its mode of being 
passed, were deep and abiding, and went far beyond 
its own obnoxious provisions, and all the transient and 
temporary considerations connected with it. . . ". A 
compromise made with a state in arms is a capitula- 
tion to that state. . . . The injury was great then, 
and a permanent evil example. It remitted the gov- 
ernment to the condition of the old confederation, 
acting upon sovereignties instead of individuals. It 
violated the feature of our Union which discriminated 
it from all confederacies that ever existed, and which 
was wisely and patriotically put into the Constitution 
to save it from the fate which had attended all con- 
federacies, ancient and modem. . . . The framers of 
our Constitution established a Union instead of a 
League — to be sovereign and independent within its 
sphere, acting upon persons through its own laws and 
courts, instead of acting on communities through 
persuasion or force. The effect of this compromise 
legislation was to destroy this great feature of our 

I04 Thomas Hart Benton 

Union — to bring the general and state governments 
into conflict — and to substitute a sovereign state for 
an offending individual as often as a state chose to 
make the cause of that individual her own. 

Not only was Benton's interpretation of the 
Constitution sound, and one that by the course of 
events has now come to be universally accepted, 
but his criticisms on the wisdom of the com- 
promise bill were perfectly just. Had the Anti- 
Nullifiers stood firm, the Nullifiers would probably 
have given way, and if not, would certainly have 
been crushed. Against a solid North and West, 
with a divided South, even her o"^ti people not 
being imanimous, and with Jackson as chief ex- 
ecutive. South Carolina could not have made even 
a respectable resistance. A salutary lesson then 
might very possibly have saved infinite trouble 
and bloodshed thereafter. But in Jackson's case 
it must be remembered that, so far as his acts 
depended purely upon his own will and judgment, 
no fault can be found with him ; he erred only in 
ratifying a compromise agreed to by the vast 
majority of the representatives of the people in 
both houses of Congress. 

The battle did not result in a decisive victory 
for either side. This was shown by the very fact 
that each party insisted that it had won a signal 
triumph. Calhoun and Clay afterward quarreled 
in the Senate chamber as to which had given up 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 105 

the more in the compromise. South Carolina had 
declared, first, that the tariff was unconstitutional, 
and therefore to be opposed upon principle ; 
second, that it worked injustice to her interests, 
and must be abolished forthwith; thirdly, that, 
if it were not so abolished, she would assert her 
power to nullify a federal law, and, if necessary, 
would secede from the Union. When her repre- 
sentatives agreed to the compromise bill, they 
abandoned the first point; the second was de- 
cided largely in her favor, though protection was 
not by any means entirely given up ; the third she 
was allowed to insist upon with impunity, although 
the other side, by passing the " Force Bill, "showed 
that in case matters did proceed to extremities 
they were prepared to act upon the opposite con- 
viction. Still, she gained most of that for which 
she contended, and the victory, as a whole, rested 
with her. Calhoun's purposes seem to have been, 
in the main, pure ; but few criminals have worked 
as much harm to their country as he did. The 
plea of good intentions is not one that can be 
allowed to have much weight in passing historical 
judgment upon a man whose wrong-headedness 
and distorted way of looking at things produced, 
or helped to produce, such incalculable evil ; there 
is a wide political applicability in the remark 
attributed to a famous Texan, to the effect that 
he might, in the end, pardon a man who shot him 

io6 Thomas Hart Benton 

on purpose, but that he would surely never forgive 
one who did so accidentally. 

Without doubt, the honors of the nullification 
dispute were borne off by Benton and Webster. 
The latter's reply to Hayne is, perhaps, the great- 
est single speech of the nineteenth century, and 
he deserves the highest credit for the stubborn- 
ness with which he stood by his colors to the last. 
There never was any question of Webster's cour- 
age; on the occasions when he changed front he 
was actuated by self-interest and ambition, not by 
timidity. Usually he appears as an advocate 
rather than an earnest believer in the cause he 
represents ; but when it came to be a question of 
the Union, he felt what he said with the whole 
strength of his nature. 

An even greater meed of praise attaches to Ben- 
ton for the unswerving fidelity which he showed 
to the Union in this crisis. Webster was a high- 
tariff man, and was backed up by all the sectional 
antipathies of the Northeast in his opposition to 
the NulHfiers; Benton, on the contrary, was a 
believer in a low tariff, or in one for revenue 
merely, and his sectional antipathies were the 
other way. Yet, even when deserted by his chief, 
and when he was opposed to every senator from 
south of the Potomac and the Ohio, he did not 
flinch for a moment from his attitude of aggressive 
loyalty to the national Union. He had a singularly 

The Struggle with the Nullifiers 107 

strong and upright character; this country has 
never had a statesman more feariessly true 
to his convictions, when great questions were at 
stake, no matter what might be the cost to him- 
self, or the pressure from outside, — even when, as 
happened later, his own State was against him. 
Intellectually he cannot for a moment be com- 
pared to the great ]\Iassachusetts senator; but 
morally he towers much higher. 

Yet, while praising Jackson and Benton for their 
behavior toward South Carolina, we cannot forget 
that but a couple of years previously they had not 
raised their voices even in the mildest rebuke of 
Georgia for conduct which, though not nearly 
so bad in degree as that of South Carolina, was 
of much the same kind. Toward the close of 
Adams's term, Georgia had bid defiance to the 
mandates of the Supreme Court, and proceeded to 
settle the Indian question within her borders with- 
out regard to the authority of the United States, 
and these matters were still unsettled when Jack- 
son became president. Unfortunately he let his 
personal feelings bias him ; and, as he took the 
Western and Georgian view of the Indian ques- 
tion, and, moreover, hated the Supreme Court 
because it was largely Federalist in its composi- 
tion, he declined to interfere. David Crockett, 
himself a Union man and a nationalist to the back- 
bone, rated Jackson savagely, and with justice, 


io8 Thomas Hart Benton 

for the inconsistency of his conduct in the two 
cases, accusing him of having, by his harmful 
leniency to Georgia, encouraged South Carolina 
to act as she did, and ridiculing him because, 
while he smiled at the deeds of the one State, 
when the like acts were done by the other, "he 
took up the rod of correction and shook it over 



IF the struggle with the Nullifiers showed Ben- 
ton at his best, in the conflict with the Bank 
he exhibited certain quahties which hardly 
place him in so favorable a light. Jackson's 
attack upon the Bank was a move undertaken 
mainly on his own responsibility, and one which, 
at first, most of his prominent friends were 
alarmed to see him undertake. Benton alone 
supported him from the beginning. Captain and 
lieutenant alike intensely appreciated the joy of 
battle ; they cared for a fight because it was a 
fight, and the certainty of a struggle, such as 
would have daunted weaker or more timid men, 
simply offered to them an additional inducement 
to follow out the course they had planned. Ben- 
ton's thoroughgoing support was invaluable to 
Jackson. The President sorely needed a friend 
in the Senate who would uphold him through thick 
and thin, and who yet commanded the respect 
of all his opponents by his strength, ability, and 
courage. To be sure, Benton's knowledge of 
financial economics was not always profound ; but, 
on the other hand a thorough mastery of the laws 

of finance would have been, in this fight, a very 


no Thomas Hart Benton 

serious disadvantage to any champion of Jackson. 
The rights and wrongs of this matter have been 
worn threadbare in coiintless discussions. For 
much of the hostility of Jackson and Benton 
toward the Bank there w^ere excellent grounds; 
but many of their actions were wholly indefensible 
and very harmful in their results to the country. 
An assault upon what Benton called "the money 
power" is apt to be popular in a democratic repub- 
lic, partly on accotmt of the vague fear with which 
the poorer and more ignorant voters regard a 
powerful institution, whose working they do not 
understand, and partly on account of the jealousy 
they feel toward those who are better off than 
themselves. When these feelings are appealed to 
by men who are intensely in earnest, and who are 
themselves convinced of the justice and wisdom of 
their course, they become very formidable factors 
in any political contest. 

The struggle first became important when the 
question of the recharter of the Bank was raised, 
toward the end of Jackson's first term, the present 
charter still having three years to run. This char- 
ter had in it many grave faults ; and there might 
well be a question as to whether it should be re- 
newed. The Bank itself, beyond doubt, possessed 
enormous power; too much power for its own or 
outsiders' good. Its president, Biddle, was a man 
of some ability, but conceited to the last degree, 

War on the Bank m 

untruthful, and to a certain extent unscrupulous in 
the use he made of the political influence of the 
great moneyed institution over which he presided. 
Some of the financial theories on which he man- 
aged the Bank were wrong; yet, on the whole, it 
was well conducted, and under its care the mone- 
tary condition of the country was quiet and good, 
infinitely better than it had been before, or than, 
under the auspices of the Jacksonian Democracy, 
it afterward became. 

The two great reasons for Jackson's success 
throughout his political career were to be found in 
the strength of the feeling in his favor among the 
poorer and least educated classes of voters, and in 
the ardent support given him by the low poli- 
ticians, who, by playing on his prejudices and 
passions, molded him to their wishes, and who 
organized and perfected in their own and his in- 
terests a great political machine, founded on the 
"spoils system;" and both the Jacksonian rank 
and file and the Jacksonian politicians soon agreed 
heartily in their opposition to the Bank. Jackson 
and Benton opposed it for the same reasons that 
the bulk of their followers did; that is to say, 
partly from honest and ignorant prejudice and 
partly from a well-founded feeling of distrust as 
to some of its actions. The mass of their fellow 
party leaders and henchmen assailed it with the 
cry that it was exerting its influence to debauch 

112 Thomas Hart Benton 

politics, while at the same time they really sought 
to use it as a power in politics on their own side. 

Jackson, in his first annual message in 1829, 
had hinted that he was opposed to the recharter 
of the Bank, then a question of the future and not 
to arise for four or five years. At the same time 
he had called in question the constitutionality and 
expediency of the Bank's existence, and had criti- 
cised as vicious its currency system. The matter 
of constitutionality had been already decided by 
the Supreme Court, the proper tribtmal, and was, 
and had been for years, an accepted fact ; it was 
an- absurdity to call it in question. As regards 
the matter of expediency, certainly the Jackson- 
ians failed signally to put anything better in its 
place. Yet it was undeniable that there were 
grave defects in the currency system. 

The President's message roused but little in- 
terest, and what little it did rouse was among the 
Bank's friends. At once these began to prepare 
the way for the recharter by an active and exten- 
sive agitation in its favor. The main bank was at 
Philadelphia, but it had branches every\\'here, and 
naturally each branch bank was a center of opposi- 
tion to the President's proposed policy. As the 
friends of the Bank were greatly interested, and 
as the matter did not immediately concern those 
who afterward became its foes, the former, for 
the time, had it all their own way, and the drift of 

War on the Bank 113 

public opinion seemed to be strongly in its favor. 
Benton was almost the only public man of prom- 
inence who tried to stem this tide from the be- 
ginning. Jackson's own party associates were 
originally largely against him, and so he stood all 
the more in need of the vigorous support which 
he received from the Missouri senator. Indeed, it 
would be unfair in the matter of the attack on the 
Bank to call Benton Jackson's follower ; he might 
with more propriety be called the leader in the 
assault, although of course he could accomplish 
little compared with what was done by the great 
popular idol. He had always been hostile to the 
Bank, largely as a matter of Jeff ersonian tradition, 
and he had shown his hostility by resolutions in- 
troduced in the Senate before Jackson was elected 

Early in 1831 he asked leave to introduce a 
resolution against the recharter of the Bank ; his 
purpose being merely to give formal notice of war 
against it, and to attempt to stir up a current of 
feeling counter to that which then seemed to be 
generally prevailing in its favor. In his speech 
he carefully avoided laying stress upon any such 
abstract point as that of constitutionality, and 
dwelt instead upon the questions that would affect 
the popular mind; assailing the Bank as "having 
too much power over the people and the govern- 
ment, over business and politics, and as too much 

114 Thomas Hart Benton 

disposed to exercise that power to the prejudice of 
the freedom and equality which should prevail in 
a republic, to be allowed to exist in our country." 
The force of such an argument in a popular elec- 
tion will be acknowledged by all practical poli- 
ticians. But, although Benton probably believed 
what he said, or at any rate most of it, he certainly 
ought not to have opened the discussion of a great 
financial measure with a demagogic appeal to caste 
prejudices. He wished to substitute a gold cur- 
rency in the place of the existing bank-notes, and 
was not disturbed at all as to how he would supply 
the place of the Bank, saying : " I am willing to see 
the charter expire, without providing any substi- 
tute for the present Bank. I am willing to see the 
currency of the federal government left to the hard 
money mentioned and intended in the Constitu- 
tion ; . . . every species of paper might be left to 
the state authorities, unrecognized by the federal 
government!" Of the beauties of such a system 
as the last the country later on received practical 
demonstration. Some of his utterances, however, 
could be commended to the friends of greenbacks 
and of dishonest money even at the present day, as 
when he says: "Gold and silver are the best cur- 
rency for a republic ; it suits the men of middle 
property and the working people best; and if I 
was going to establish a workingman's party it 
should be on the basis of hard money — a hard- 

War on the Bank 115 

money party against a paper party." The Bank 
was in Philadelphia ; much of the stock was held 
in the East, and a good deal was held abroad, 
which gave Benton a chance to play on sectional 
feelings, as follows: "To whom is all the power 
granted? To a company of private individuals, 
many of them foreigners, and the mass of them 
residing in a remote and narrow comer of the 
Union, unconnected by any sympathy with the fer- 
tile regions of the Great Valley, in which the natu- 
ral power of this Union — the power of numbers — 
will be found to reside long before the renewed 
term of a second charter would expire." Among 
the other sentences occurs the following bit of 
pure demagogic pyrotechnics: "It [the Bank] 
tends to aggravate the inequality of fortunes ; to 
make the rich richer and the poor poorer ; to mul- 
tiply nabobs and paupers; and to deepen and 
widen the gulf which separates Dives from Laza- 
rus. A great moneyed power is favorable to 
great capitalists, for it is the principle of money 
to favor money. It is unfavorable to small capi- 
talists, for it is the principle of money to eschew 
the needy and unfortunate It is injurious to 
the laboring classes." Altogether it was not a 
speech to be proud of. The Senate refused per- 
mission to introduce the resolution by the close 
vote of twenty-three to twenty. 

Benton lived only a generation after that one 

ii6 Thomas Hart Benton 

which had itself experienced oppression from a 
king, from an aristocratic legislature, and from a 
foreign power; and so his rant about the undue 
influence of foreigners in our governmental affairs, 
and his declamation over the purely supposititious 
powers that were presimied to be conspiring against 
the welfare of the poorer classes probably more 
nearly expressed his real feelings than would be 
the case with the similar utterances of any leading 
statesman nowadays. He was an enthusiastic 
beHever in the extreme Jeffersonian doctrinaire 
views as to the will of the majority being always 
right, and as to the moral perfection of the aver- 
age voter. Like his fellow statesmen he failed to 
see the curious absurdity of supporting black 
slavery, and yet claiming universal suffrage for 
whites as a divine right, not as a mere matter of 
expediency resulting on the whole better than any 
other method. He had not learned that the 
majority in a democracy has no more right to 
tyrannize over a minority than, under a different 
system, the latter would have to oppress the 
former ; and that, if there is a moral principle at 
stake, the saying that the voice of the people is 
the voice of God may be quite as untrue, and do 
quite as much mischief, as the old theory of the 
divine right of kings. The distinguishing feature 
of our American governmental system is the free- 
dom of the individual ; it is quite as important to 

War on the Bank 117 

prevent his being oppressed by many men as it is 
to save him from the tyranny of one. 

This speech on the recharter showed a great 
deal of wide reading and much information ; but 
a good part of it was sheer declamation, in the 
turgid, pompous style that Benton, as well as a 
great many other American public speakers, was 
apt to mistake for genuine oratory. His subse- 
quent speech on currency, however, was much 
better. This was likewise delivered on the occa- 
sion of asking leave to present a joint resolution, 
which leave was refused. The branch draft sys- 
tem was the object of the assault. These branch 
drafts were for even sums of small denomination, 
circulating like bank-notes ; they were drawn on 
the parent bank at Philadelphia to the order of 
some officer of the branch bank, and were indorsed 
by the latter to bearer. Thus paper was issued at 
one place which was payable at another and a dis- 
tant place ; and among other results there ensued 
a constant inflation of credit. They were very 
mischievous in their workings ; they had none of 
the marks of convertible bank-notes or money, 
and so long as credit was active there could be no 
check on the inflation of the currency by them. 
Payment could be voluntarily made at the branch 
banks whence issued, but if it was refused the 
owner had only the right to go to Philadelphia 
and sue the directors there. Most of these drafts 

ii8 Thomas Hart Benton 

were issued at the most remote and inaccessible 
branches, the payment of them being, therefore, 
much delayed by distance and difficulty; nor 
were the directors liable for excessive issues. 
They constituted the bulk of all the paper seen in 
circulation ; they were supposed to be equivalent 
to money, but being bills of exchange they were 
merely negotiable instruments ; they did not have 
the properties of bank-notes, which are constantly 
and directly interchangeable with money. In 
their issue Biddle had laid himself open to attack ; 
and in defending them he certainly did not always 
speak the truth, wilfully concealing or coloring 
facts. Moreover, his self-satisfaction and the 
foolish pride in his own power, which he could not 
conceal, led him into making imprudent boasts as 
to the great power the Bank could exercise over 
other local banks, and over the general prosperity 
of the country, while dilating upon its good con- 
duct in not using this power to the disadvantage 
of the public. All this was playing into Benton's 
hands. He showed some of the evils of the branch 
draft system, although apparently not seeing 
others that were quite as important. He at- 
tacked the Bank for some real and many imagi- 
nary wrong-doings ; and quoted Biddle himself as 
an authority for the existence of powers dangerous 
to the welfare of the State. 

The advocates of the Bank were still in the 

War on the Bank 119 

majority in both houses of Congress, and soon 
began preparations for pushing through a bill for 
the recharter. The issue began to become politi- 
cal. Webster, Clay, and most of the other anti- 
administration men were for the Bank; and so 
when the convention of the National Republicans, 
who soon afterward definitely assumed the name 
of Whigs, took place, they declared heartily in its 
favor, and nominated for the presidency its most 
enthusiastic supporter, Henry Clay. The Bank 
itself unquestionably preferred not to be dragged 
into politics ; but Clay, thinking he saw a chance 
for a successful stroke, fastened upon it, and the 
convention that nominated him made the fight 
against Jackson on the ground that he was hostile 
to the Bank. Even had this not already been the 
case, no more certain method of insuring his hos- 
tility could have been adopted. 

Still, however, many of Jackson's supporters were 
also advocates of recharter ; and the bill for that 
purpose commanded the majority in Congress. 
Benton took the lead in organizing the opposition, 
not w4th the hope of preventing its passage, but 
"to attack incessantly, assail at all points, display 
the evil of the institution, rouse the people, and 
prepare them to sustain the veto." In other 
words, he was preparing for an appeal to the 
people, and working to secure an anti-Bank 
majority in the next Congress. He instigated 

I20 Thomas Hart Benton 

and prepared the investigation into the affairs of 
the Bank, which was made in the House, and he 
led the harassing parHamentary warfare carried 
on against the rechartering bill in the Senate. 
He himself seems to have superintended the 
preparation of the charges which were investi- 
gated by the House. A great flurry was made 
over them, Benton and all his friends claiming 
that they were fully substantiated ; but the only 
real point scored was that against the branch 
drafts. Benton, with the majority of the com- 
mittee of investigation, had the loosest ideas as 
to what a bank ought to do, loud though they 
were in dentmciation of what this particular bank 
was alleged to have done. 

Webster made the great argimient in favor of 
the recharter bill. Benton took the lead in oppo- 
sition, stating, what was probably true, that the 
bill was brought up so long before the charter ex- 
pired for political reasons, and criticizing it as 
premature ; a criticism unfortunately applicable 
with even greater force to Jackson's message. His 
speech was largely mere talking against time, and 
he wandered widely from the subject. Among 
other things he invoked the aid of the principle of 
states' -rights, because the Bank then had power to 
establish branches in any State, whether the latter 
liked it or not, and free from state taxation. He 
also appealed to tne Western members as such, 

War on the Bank 121 

insisting that the Bank discriminated against their 
section of the country in favor of the East; the 
facts being that the shrewdness and commercial 
moraHty of the Northeast, particularly of New 
England, saved them from the evils brought on 
the Westerners by the foolishness with which they 
abused their credit and the laxness with which 
they looked on monetary obligations. But in spite 
of all that Benton could do, the bill passed both 
houses, the Senate voting in its favor by twenty- 
eight ayes against twenty nays. 

Jackson, who never feared anything, and was 
more than ready to accept the fight which was in 
some measure forced on him, yet which in some 
degree he had courted, promptly vetoed the bill in 
a message which stated some truths forcibly and 
fearlessly, which developed some very queer con- 
stitutional and financial theories, and which con- 
tained a number of absurdities, evidently put in, 
not for the benefit of the Senate, but to influence 
voters at the coming presidential election. The 
leaders of the opposition felt obliged to make a 
show of trying to pass the bill over the veto in 
order to get a chance to answer Jackson. Web- 
ster again opened the argument. Clay made the 
fiercest onslaught, assailing the President person- 
ally besides attacking the veto power, and trying 
to discredit its use. But the presidential power of 
veto is among the best features of our government, 

122 Thomas Hart Benton 

and Benton had no difficulty in making a good 
defense of it; although many of the arguments 
adduced by him in its favor were entirely unsoimd, 
being based on the wholly groundless assumption 
that the function of the President corresponded to 
that of the ancient Roman tribune of the people, 
and was supposed to be exercised in the interests 
of the people to control the legislature — thus wil- 
fully overlooking the fact that the legislature also 
was elected by the people. When on his ultra- 
democratic hobby Benton always rode very loose 
in the saddle, and with little knowledge of where 
he was going. Clay and Benton alike drew all 
sorts of analogies between the state of affairs in 
the United States and that formerly prevailing 
in France, England, and above all in the much 
suffering republics of antiquity. Benton insisted 
that the Bank had wickedly persuaded the West 
to get in debt to it so as to have that section in its 
power, and that the Western debt had been cre- 
ated with a view to political engineering ; the fact 
being that the Westerners had run into debt purely 
by their own fault, and that the Bank itself was 
seriously alarmed at the condition of its Western 
branches. The currency being in much worse 
shape in the West than in the Northeast, gold and 
silver naturally moved toward the latter place; 
and this result of their own shortcomings was 
again held up as a grievance of the Westerners 

War on the Bank 123 

against the Bank. He also read a severe lecture 
on the interests of party discipline to the Demo- 
crats who had voted for the recharter, assuring 
them that they could not continue to be both for 
the Bank and for Jackson. The Jacksonian 
Democracy, nominally the party of the multitude, 
was in reality the nearest approach the United 
States has ever seen to the " one man power ;" and 
to break with Jackson was to break with the 
Democratic party. The alternative of expulsion 
or of turning a somersault being thus plainly pre- 
sented to the recalcitrant members, they for the 
most part chose the latter, and performed the re- 
quired feat of legislative acrobatics with the most 
imobtrusive and submissive meekness. The de- 
bate concluded with a sharp and undignified inter- 
change of personalities between the Missouri and 
Kentucky senators. Clay giving Benton the lie 
direct, and the latter retorting in kind. Each side, 
of course, predicted the utter ruin of the country, 
if the other prevailed. Benton said that, if the 
Bank conquered, the result would be the estab- 
lishment of an oligarchy, and then of a monarchy, 
and finally, the death of the republic by corruption. 
Webster stated as his belief that, if the sentiments 
of the veto message received general approbation, 
the Constitution could not possibly survive its 
fiftieth year. Webster, however, in that debate, 
showed to good advantage. Benton was no match 

124 Thomas Hart Benton 

for him, either as a thinker or as a speaker ; but 
with the real leader of the Whig party, Henry 
Clay, he never had much cause to fear comparison. 

All the state banks were of course rabidly in 
favor of Jackson ; and the presidential election of 
1832 was largely fought on the bank issue. In 
Pennsylvania, however, the feeling for the Bank 
was only less strong than that for Jackson; and 
accordingly that Boeotian community sapiently 
cast its electoral votes for the latter, while instruct- 
ing its senators and representatives to support the 
former. But the complete and hopeless defeat of 
Clay by Jackson sealed the fate of the Bank. Jack- 
son was not even content to let it die naturally by 
the lapse of its charter. His attitude toward it 
so far had been one for which much could be said ; 
indeed, very good groimds can be shown for think- 
ing his veto proper. But of the impropriety of 
his next step there could be no possible ques- 
tion. Congress had passed a resolution declaring 
its belief in the safety of the United States 
deposits in the Bank; but the President, in the 
summer of 1833, removed these deposits and 
placed them in certain state banks. He experi- 
enced some difficulty in getting a secretary of the 
treasury who would take such a step; finally he 
found one in Taney. 

The Bank memorialized Congress at once ; and 
the anti-administration majority in the Senate 

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War on the Bank 125 

forthwith took up the quarrel. They first re- 
jected Jackson's nominations for bank directors, 
and then refused to confirm Taney himself. Two 
years later Jackson made the latter chief justice of 
the Supreme Court, in which position he lived to 
do even more mischief than he had time or oppor- 
tunity to accomplish as secretary of the treasury. 

Benton was the administration champion in the 
Senate. Opposed to him were Webster and Clay, 
as leaders of the Whigs, supported for the time 
being by Calhoim. The feeling of Clay and Cal- 
houn against the President was bitterly personal, 
and was repaid by his rancorous hatred. But 
Webster, though he was really on most questions 
even more antagonistic to the ideas of the Jack- 
sonian school, always remained personally on good 
terms with its leaders. 

Clay introduced a resolution directing the return 
of the deposits ; Benton opposed it ; it passed by 
a vote of twenty-eight to eighteen, but was lost in 
the House. Clay then introduced a resolution de- 
manding to know from the President whether the 
paper alleged to have been published by his au- 
thority as having been read to the cabinet, in 
relation to the removal of the deposits, was genu- 
ine or not ; and, if it was, asking for a copy. Ben- 
ton opposed the motion, which nevertheless passed. 
But the President refused to accede to the de- 
mand. Meanwhile the new departure in banking, 

126 Thomas Hart Benton 

inaugurated by the President, was working badly. 
One of the main grounds for removing the deposits 
was the allegation that they were used to debauch 
politics. This was never proved against the old 
United States Bank ; but under Jackson's admin- 
istration, which corrupted the public service in 
every way, the deposits became fruitful sources of 
political reward and bribery. 

Clay then introduced his famous resolution cen- 
suring the President for his action, and supported 
it in a long and fiery speech ; a speech which, like 
most of Clay's, was received by his followers at the 
time with rapture, but in which this generation 
fails to find the sign of that remarkable ability 
with which his own contemporaries credited the 
great Kentuckian. He attacked Jackson with 
fierce invective, painting him as an unscrupulous 
tyrant, who was inaugurating a revolution in the 
government of the Union. But he was outdone 
by Calhoun, who, with continual interludes of com- 
placent references to the good already done by the 
Nullifiers, assailed Jackson as one of a band of art- 
ful, corrupt, and cunning politicians, and drew a 
picture even more lurid than Clay's of the future 
of the country, and the danger of impending revo- 
lution. Webster's speeches were more self-con- 
tained in tone. Benton was the only Jacksonian 
senator who could contend with the great Nullifier 
and the two great Whigs ; and he repHed at length, 

War on the Bank 127 

and in much the same style as they had spoken. 
The Senate was flooded with petitions in favor 
of the Bank, which were presented with suitable 
speeches by the leading Whigs. Benton ridiculed 
the exaggerated tone of alarm in which these peti- 
tions w^ere drawn, and declared that the panic, ex- 
citement, and suffering existing in business circles 
throughout the country were due to the deliberate 
design of the Bank, and afforded a fresh proof that 
the latter was a dangerous power to the State. 

The resolution of censure was at last passed by 
a vote of twenty-six to twenty, and Jackson, in a 
fury, sent in a written protest against it, which the 
Senate refused to receive. The excitement all 
over the country was intense throughout the strug- 
gle. The suffering, which was really caused by 
the President's act, but which was attributed by 
his supporters to the machinations of the Bank, 
was very real ; even Benton admitted this, although 
contending that it was not a natural result of the 
poHcy pursued, but had been artificially excited — 
or, as he very clumsily phrased it, "though ficti- 
tious and forged, yet the distress was real, and did 
an immensity of damage." Neither Jackson nor 
Benton yielded an inch to the outside pressure; 
the latter was the soul of the fight in Congress, 
making over thirty speeches during the struggle. 

During the debate on receiving the President's 
protest, Benton gave notice of his intention at an 

128 Thomas Hart Benton 

early day to move to expunge from the journal the 
resolution of censure. This idea was entirely his 
own, and he gave the notice without having con- 
sulted anybody. It was, however, a motion after 
Jackson's own heart, as the latter now began to 
look upon the affair as purely personal to himself. 
His party accepted this view of the matter with a 
ser\dle alacrity only surpassed by the way in which 
its leaders themselves bowed down before the mob ; 
and for the next two years the state elections were 
concerned purely with personal politics, the main 
point at issue in the choice for every United States 
senator being, whether he would or would not sup- 
port Benton's expimging resolution. The whole 
affair seems to us so puerile that we can hardly 
understand the importance attached to it by the 
actors themselves. But the men who happened at 
that period to be the leaders in public affairs were 
peculiarly and frankly incapable of separating in 
their minds matters merely affecting themselves 
from matters affecting their constituents. Each 
firmly beheved that if he was not the whole State, 
he was at least a most important fraction of it; 
and this was as plainly seen in Webster's colossal 
egoism and the frank vanity of Henry Clay as in 
Benton's ponderous self-consciousness and the all- 
pervading personality of Andrew Jackson. 

Some of the speeches on the expunging resolu- 
tion show delicious, although entirely unconscious, 

War on the Bank 129 

humor. If there ever was a wholly irrational state 
of mind it was that in which the Jacksonians per- 
petually kept themselves. Every canvass on Jack- 
son's behalf was one of soimd, fury, and excite- 
ment, of appeal to the passions, prejudices, and 
feelings, but never the reason, of the people. A 
speech for him was generally a mere frantic denim- 
ciation of whatever and whoever was opposed to 
him, coupled with fulsome adulation of "the old 
hero." His supporters rarely indeed spoke to the 
cool judgment of the country, for the very excel- 
lent reason that the cool judgment of the country 
was apt to be against them. Such being the case, 
it is amusing to read in Benton's speech on receiv- 
ing the protest the following sentences, apparently 
uttered in solemn good faith, and with sublime 
imconsciousness of irony: 

To such a community [the American body politic] — 
in an appeal on a great question of constitutional law 
to the understandings of such a people — declamation, 
passion, epithets, opprobrious language, will stand for 
nothing. They will float harmless and unheeded 
through the empty air, and strike in vain upon the ear 
of a sober and dispassionate tribunal. Indignation, 
real or affected; wrath, however hot; fury, however 
enraged; asseverations, however violent; denuncia- 
tion, however furious, will avail nothing. Facts, 
inexorable facts, are all that will be attended to; 
reason, calm and self-possessed, is all that will be 
listened to. 

The description of the mass of Jacksonian voters 


I30 Thomas Hart Benton 

as forming "a sober and dispassionate tribunal" 
is an artistic touch of fancy quite iinique, but ad- 
mirably characteristic of Benton, whose state- 
ments always rose vigorously to the necessities of 
the occasion. 

Webster, in an effort to make the best of un- 
toward circumstances, brought in a bill to rechar- 
ter the Bank for a short period, at the same time 
doing away with some of the features that were 
objectionable in the old charter. This bill might 
have passed, had it not been opposed by the ex- 
treme Bank men, including Clay and Calhoun. 
In the course of the debate over it Benton deliv- 
ered a very elaborate and carefully studied speech 
in favor of hard money and a currency of the pre- 
cious metals; a speech which is to this day well 
worth careful reading. Some of his financial 
theories were crude and confused; but on the 
main question he was perfectly soimd. Both he 
and Jackson deserve great credit for having done 
much to impress the popular mind with the benefit 
of hard, that is to say honest, money. Benton 
was the strongest hard-money man then in public 
life, being, indeed, popularly nicknamed "Old 
Bullion." He thoroughly appreciated that a 
metallic currency was of more vital importance 
to the laboring men and to men of small capital 
generally than to any of the richer classes. A 
metallic currency was always surer and safer than 

War on the Bank 131 

a paper currency ; where it exists a laboring man 
dependent on his wages need fear less than 
any other member of the community the evils of 
bad banking. Benton's idea of the danger to the 
masses from " the money power " was exaggerated ; 
but in advocating a sound gold currency he took 
the surest way to overcome any possible danger- 
ous tendency. A craze for "soft," or dishonest, 
money — a greenback movement, or one for short- 
weight silver dollars — works more to the disad- 
vantage of the whole mass of the people than even 
to that of the capitalists ; it is a move directly in 
the interests of "the money power," which its 
loud-mouthed advocates are ostensibly opposing 
in the interests of democracy. 

Benton continued his speeches. The panic was 
now subsiding ; there had not been time for Jack- 
son's ruinous policy of making deposits in numer- 
ous state banks, and thereby encouraging wild 
inflation of credit, to bear fruit and, as it after- 
ward did, involve the whole country in financial 
disaster. Therefore Benton was able to exult 
greatly over the favorable showing of affairs in 
the report of the secretary of the treasury. He 
also procured the passage of a gold currency law, 
which, however, fixed the ratio of value between 
gold and silver at sixteen to one; an improper 
proportion, but one which had prevailed for three 
centuries in the Spanish-American countries, from 

132 Thomas Hart Benton 

which he copied it. In consequence of this law 
gold, long banished, became once more a circu- 
lating medium of exchange. 

The Bank of the United States afterw-ard was 
turned into the State Bank of Pennsylvania; it 
was badly managed and finally became insolvent. 
The Jacksonians accepted its dowmfall as a vindi- 
cation of their policy ; but in reality it was due to 
causes not operative at the time of the great strug- 
gle between the President and the Senate over 
its continued existence. Certainly by no possible 
financial policy could it have produced such wide- 
spread ruin and distress as did the system intro- 
duced by Jackson. 

Long after the Bank controversy had lost all 
practical bearing it continued to be agitated by 
the chief parties to it, who still felt sore from the 
various encounters. Jackson assailed it again in 
his message ; a friendly committee of the Senate 
investigated it and reported in its favor, besides 
going out of their way to rake up charges against 
Jackson and Benton. The latter replied in a long 
speech, and became involved in personalities with 
the chairman, Tyler of \^irginia. Neither side 
paid attention to any but the partisan aspect of 
the question, and the discussions were absolutely 

The w^hole matter was threshed over again and 
again, long after nothing but chaff was left, during 

War on the Bank 133 

the debates on Benton's expunging resolution. 
Few now would defend this resolution. The origi- 
nal resolution of censure may have been of doubt- 
ful propriety; but it was passed, was entered on 
the record, and had become a part of the journal 
of the Senate. It would have been perfectly 
proper to pass another resolution condemning or 
reversing the original one, and approving the 
course of the President ; but it was in the highest 
degree improper to set about what was in form 
falsifying the record. Still, Benton found plenty 
of precedents in the annals of other legislative 
bodies for what he proposed to do, and the country 
as a whole, backed him up heartily. He was 
further stimulated by the knowledge that there 
was probably no other legislative act in which 
Jackson took such intense interest, or which could 
so gratify his pride ; the mortification to Clay and 
Calhoun would be equally great. Benton's motion 
failed more than once, but the complexion of the 
Senate was rapidly changed by the various States 
substituting Democratic for Whig or anti- Jackson 
senators. Some of the changes were made, as in 
Virginia, by senators refusing to vote for the ex- 
punging resolution, as required by the state legis- 
latures, and then resigning their seats, pursuant to 
a ridiculous theory of the ultra-Democrats, which, 
if carried out, would completely nullify the provi- 
sion for a six years' senatorial term. Finally, at 

134 Thomas Hart Benton 

the very close of Jackson's administration, Benton 
found himself with a fair majority behind him, 
and made the final move. His speech was of 
course mainly filled with a highly colored accoimt 
of the blessings wrought for the American people 
by Andrew Jackson, and equally of course the 
latter was compared at length to a variety of 
ancient Roman worthies. The final scene in the 
Senate had an element of the comic about it. 
The expungers held a caucus and agreed to sit the 
session out until the resolution was passed; and 
with prudent forethought, Benton, well aware that 
when hungry and tired his followers might show 
less inflexibility of purpose, provided in an adjoin- 
ing committee-room "an ample supply of cold 
hams, turkeys, rounds of beef, pickles, wines, and 
cups of hot coffee," wherewith to inspirit the faint- 

Fortified by the refreshments, the expungers 
won a complete victor3^ If the language of Jack- 
son's admirers was overdrawn and strained to the 
last degree in lauding him for every virtue that he 
had or had not, it must be remembered that his 
opponents went quite as far wrong on the other 
side in their denunciations and extravagant proph- 
ecies of gloom. Webster made a very dignified 
and forcible speech in closing the argument against 
the resolution, but Calhoun and Clay were much 
less moderate,— the latter drawing a vivid picture 

War on the Bank 135 

of a rapidly approaching reign of lawless military 
violence, and asserting that his opponents had 
"extinguished one of the brightest and purest 
lights that ever burnt at the altar of civil liberty." 
As a proper finale Jackson, to show his apprecia- 
tion, gave a great dinner to the expungers and 
their wives, Benton sitting at the head of the 
table. Jackson and Benton solemnly thought 
that they were taking part in a great act of justice, 
and were amusingly unable to see the comic side 
of their acts. They probably really believed 
most of their own denunciations of the Bank, and 
very possibly thought that the wickedness of its 
followers might tempt them to do any desperate 
deed. At any rate, they enjoyed posing alike to 
themselves and to the public as persons of antique 
virtue, who had risked both life and reputation in 
a hazardous but successful attempt to save the 
liberties of the people from the vast and hostile 
forces of the aristocratic "money power." 

The best verdict on the expunging resolution 
was given by Webster when he characterized the 
whole affair as one which, if it were not regarded as 
a ruthless violation of a sacred instrument, would 
appear to be little elevated above the character of 
a contemptible farce. 



BENTON was supremely self-satisfied with the 
part he had played in the struggle with the 
Bank. But very few thinking men would 
now admit that his actions, as a whole, on the occa- 
sion in question, were to his credit, although in the 
matter of the branch drafts he was perfectly right, 
and in that of the recharter at least occupied de- 
fensible groimd. His general views on monetary 
matters, however, were sound, and on some of the 
financial questions that shortly arose he occupied 
a rather lonely preeminence of good sense among 
his fellow senators; such being particularly the 
case as regards the various mischievous schemes 
in relation to disposing of tne public lands, and of 
the money drawn from their sale. The revenue 
derived from all sources, including these sales of 
public lands, had for some years been much in 
excess of the governmental expenses, and a sur- 
plus had accumulated in the treasury. This sur- 
plus worked more damage than any deficit would 
have done. 

There were gold mines in the Southern States, 
which had been growing more and more produc- 
tive ; and, as the cost of freighting the bullion was 


The Distribution of the Surplus 137 

excessive, a bill was introduced to establish branch 
mints at New Orleans and in the gold regions of 
Georgia and North Carolina. Benton advocated 
this strongly, as a constitutional right of the South 
and West, and as greatly in the interest of those 
two sections ; and also as being another move in 
favor of a hard-money currency as opposed to one 
of paper. There was strong opposition to the bill ; 
many of the Whigs having been carried so far by 
their heated devotion to the United States Bank 
in its quarrel that they had become paper-money 
men. But the vote was neither sectional nor par- 
tisan in its character. Clay led the opposition, 
while Webster supported Benton. 

Before this time propositions to distribute among 
the States the revenue from the public lands had 
become common ; and they were succeeded by 
propositions to distribute the lands themselves, 
and then by others to distribute all the surplus 
revenue. Calhoun finally introduced an amend- 
ment to the Constitution to enable the surplus in 
the treasury during the next eight years to be 
distributed among the various States; the esti- 
mate being that for the time mentioned there 
would be about nine millions surplus annually. 
Benton attacked the proposal very ably, showing 
the viciousness of a scheme which would degrade 
every state government into the position of a 
mendicant, and would allow money to be collected 

138 Thomas Hart Benton 

from the citizens with one hand in order to be 
given back to them with the other ; and also deny- 
ing that the surplus would reach anything like the 
dimensions indicated. He ridiculed the idea of 
making a constitutional amendment to cover so 
short a period of time ; and stated that he would 
greatly prefer to see the price paid for public lands 
by incoming settlers reduced, and what surplus 
there was expended on strengthening the defenses 
of the United States against foreign powers. This 
last proposition was eminently proper. We were 
then, as always, in our chronic state of utter de- 
fenselessness against any hostile attack, and yet 
were in imminent danger of getting embroiled with 
at least one great power, — France. Our danger 
is always that we shall spend too little, and not too 
much, in keeping ourselves prepared for foreign 
war. Calhoun's resolution was a total failure, and 
was never even brought to a vote. 

Benton's proposed method of using the surplus 
came in with peculiar propriety on account of the 
conduct of the Whigs and Nullifiers in joining to 
oppose the appropriation of three millions of dol- 
lars for purposes of defense, which was provided 
for in the general fortification bill. The House 
passed this bill by a great majority. It was emi- 
nently proper that we should at once take steps 
to provide for the very possible contingency of a 
war with France, as the relations with that power 

The Distribution of the Surplus 139 

were growing more threatening every day ; but the 
opposition of the anti-Jackson men to the admin- 
istration and to all its measures had become so 
embittered that they were willing to run the risk 
of seriously damaging the national credit and 
honor, if they could thereby score a point against 
their political adversaries. Accordingly, under 
the lead of Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, they 
defeated the bill in the Senate, in spite of all that 
could be done to save it by Benton, who, what- 
ever his faults, was always patriotic. The appro- 
priation had been very irregular in form, and 
under ordinary circumstances there would have 
been good justification for inquiring into it before 
permitting its passage; but under the circum- 
stances its defeat at the moment was most unfor- 
tunate. For the President had been pressing 
France, even to the point of tolerably plain 
threats, in order to induce or compel her to fulfil 
the conditions of the recent treaty by which she 
had bound herself to pay a considerable indem- 
nity, long owing by her to the United States for 
depredations on our commerce. Now she men- 
aced war, avowedly on the ground that we were 
unprepared to resist her; and this vote in the 
Senate naturally led the French government to 
suppose that Jackson was not sustained by the 
country in the vigorous position which he had 
assumed. In speaking on the message of the 

I40 Thomas Hart Benton 

President which alluded to this state of affairs, 
Benton strongly advocated our standing firmly 
for our rights, making a good speech, which 
showed much historical learning. He severely 
reproached the anti-administration senators for 
their previous conduct in causing the loss of the 
defense appropriation bill, and for preferring to 
do worse than waste the surplus by distributing it 
among the different States instead of applying it 
according to the provisions of that wise measure. 
This brought on a bitter wrangle, in which Ben- 
ton certainly had the best of it. Calhoun was in 
favor of humiliating non-resistance ; he never ad- 
vocated warlike measures when the dignity of the 
nation was at stake, fond though he was of threat- 
ening violence on behalf of slavery or that form of 
secession known as nullification. Benton quoted 
from speeches in the French Chamber of Deputies 
to show that the French were encouraged to take 
the position that they did on account of the action 
of the Senate, and the disposition shown by a ma- 
jority among the senators rather to pull down the 
President in a party struggle than to uphold him 
in his efforts to save the national honor in a contest 
with France. A curious feature of his speech was 
that in which he warned the latter power that, in 
the event of a conflict, it would have to do with a 
branch of the same race which, "from the days of 
Agincourt and Crecy, of Blenheim and Ramillies, 

The Distribution of the Surplus 141 

down to the days of Salamanca and Waterloo, has 
always known perfectly well how to deal with the 
impetuous and fiery courage of the French." This 
sudden outcropping of what, in Bentonian Eng- 
lish, might be called Pan -Anglo-Saxon sentiment 
was all the more surprising inasmuch as both Ben- 
ton himself and the party to which he belonged 
w^ere strongly anti-English in their way of looking 
at our foreign policy, at least so far as North 
America was concerned. In the end France 
yielded, though trying to maintain her dignity 
by stating that she had not done so, and the 
United States received what was due them. 

Benton strongly opposed the payment by the 
United States of the private claims of its citizens 
for damages arising from the French spoliations 
at the end of the last century. He pointed out 
that the effort to pay such claims, scores of years 
after the time of their accruing, rarely benefits 
any of the parties originally in interest, and can 
only do real service to dishonest speculators. His 
speech on this matter would not be bad reading 
for some of the pension-jobbing congressmen of 
the present day, and their supporters ; but as con- 
cerned these French claims he could have been 
easily answered. 

In the controversy over the bill introduced by 
Clay, to distribute the revenue derived from the 
pubhc lands among the States for the next five 

142 Thomas Hart Benton 

years, Benton showed to great advantage com- 
pared both to the introducer of the bill himself, 
and to Webster, his supporter. He had all along 
taken the view of the land question that would be 
natural to a far-seeing Western statesman de- 
sirous of encouraging immigration. He wished 
the pubhc lands to be sold in small parcels to 
actual settlers, at prices that would allow any 
poor man who was thrifty to take up a claim. He 
had already introduced a bill to sell them at grad- 
uated prices, the minimum being established at a 
dollar and twenty-five cents an acre ; but if land 
remained unsold at this rate for three years it was 
then to be sold for what it would bring in the 
market. This bill passed the Senate, but failed 
in the House. 

In opposing Clay's distribution scheme Benton 
again brought forward his plan of using the sur- 
plus to provide for the national defenses ; and in 
his speech showed the strongly national turn of his 
mind, saying: 

In this great system of national defense the whole 
Union is equally interested ; for the country, in all that 
concerns its defenses, is but a unit, and every section is 
interested in the defense of every other section, and 
every individual citizen is interested in the defense of 
the whole population. It is in vain to say that the 
navy is on the sea, and the fortifications on the sea- 
board, and that the citizens in the interior States, or in 
the valley of the Mississippi, have no interest in these 

The Distribution of the Surplus 143 

remote defenses. Such an idea is mistaken and delu- 
sive; the inhabitant of Missouri or of Indiana has a 
direct interest in keeping open the mouths of the 
rivers, defending the seaport towns, and preserving 
a naval force that will protect the produce of his labor 
in crossing the ocean and arriving safely in foreign 

Benton's patriotism always included the whole 
country in spite of the strength of his local sympa- 
thies. The bill passed the Senate by a rather close 
vote, and went to the House, where it soon became 
evident that it was doomed to failure. There was 
another bill, practically of much the same import, 
before the Senate, providing for the distribution 
of the surplus among the States in proportion to 
their electoral votes, but omitting the excellent 
proviso concerning the defenses. To suit the 
views of Calhoun and the sticklers for strict con- 
struction generally, the form of this rival bill was 
changed, so that the "distribution" purported to 
be a "deposit" merely; the money being nomi- 
nally only loaned to the States, who pledged their 
faith to return it when Congress should call for it. 
As it was of course evident that such a loan would 
never be repaid, the substitution of "deposit" for 
"distribution" can only be regarded as a verbal 
change to give the doctrinaires a loophole for 
escape from their previous position ; they all took 
advantage of it, and the bill received overwhelm- 
ing support, and was passed by both houses. 

144 Thomas Hart Benton 

Benton, however, stood out against it to the 
last, and in a very powerful speech foretold the 
evils which the plan would surely work. He 
scornfully exposed the way in which some of the 
members were trying, by a trick of wording, to 
hide the nature of the bill they were enacting into 
a law, and thus to seem to justify themselves for 
the support they were giving it. " It is in name a 
deposit; in form, a loan; in essence and design, 
a distribution," said Benton. He ridiculed the 
attitude of the hair-splitting strict construction- 
ists, like Calhoim, who had always pretended most 
scrupulously to respect the exact wording of the 
Constitution, and who had previously refused to 
vote for distribution on the groimd that it was 
unconstitutional : 

At the commencement of the present session a 
proposition was made [by Calhoun] to amend the 
Constitution, to permit this identical distribution to 
be made. That proposition is now upon our calendar, 
for the action of Congress. All at once it is discov- 
ered that a change of name will do as well as a change 
of the Constitution. Strike out the word "dis- 
tribute" and insert the word "deposit," and incon- 
tinently the impediment is removed; the constitu- 
tional difficulty is surmounted, and the distribution 
can be made. 

He showed that to the States themselves the 
moneys distributed would either be useless, or 
else — and much more probably — they would be 

The Distribution of the Surplus 145 

fruitful sources of corruption and political de- 
bauchery. He was quite right. It would have 
been very much better to have destroyed the sur- 
plus than to have distributed it as was actually 
done. None of the States gained any real benefit 
by the transaction ; most were seriously harmed. 
At the best, the money was squandered in the rage 
for public improvements that then possessed the 
whole people; often it was stolen outright, or 
never accoimted for. In the one case, it was an 
incentive to extravagance ; in the other, it was a 
corruption fund. Yet the popular feeling was 
strongly in favor of the measure at the time, and 
Benton was almost the only public man of note 
who dared to resist it. On this occasion, as in the 
closing act of the struggle with the Nullifiers, he 
showed more backbone than did his great chief; 
for Jackson signed the bill, although criticizing it 
most forcibly and pungently. 

The success of this measure naturally encour- 
aged the presentation of others. Clay attempted to 
revive his land-money distribution bill, but was 
defeated, mainly through Benton's efforts. Three 
or four other similar schemes, including one of 
Calhoun's, also failed. Finally, a clause providing 
for a further "deposit" of surplus moneys with the 
States was tacked to a bill appropriating money 
for defenses, thereby loading it down so that it 

was eventually lost. In the Senate the " deposit" 

146 Thomas Hart Benton 

amendment was finally struck out, in spite of 
the opposition of Clay, Calhotm, and Webster. 
Throughout the whole discussion of the distribu- 
tion of the surplus Benton certainly shines by com- 
parison with any one of his three great senatorial 

He shows to equally great advantage compared 
to them in the part taken by him in reference to 
Jackson's so-called specie circulars. The craze for 
speculation had affected the sales of public lands, 
which were increasing at an extraordinary rate, 
nearly twenty-five million dollars' worth being sold 
in 1836. As a rule, the payments were made in 
the notes of irresponsible banks, gotten up in many 
cases by the land speculators themselves. The 
sales were ninning up to five millions a month, 
with prospect of a boundless increase, so that all 
the public land bade fair to be converted into in- 
convertible paper. Benton had foreseen the evil 
results attending such a change, and, though well 
aware that he was opposing powerful interests in 
his own section of the country, had already tried 
to put a stop to it by law. In his speech he had 
stated that the unprecedented increase in the sale 
of public lands was due to the accommodations re- 
ceived by speculators from worthless banks, whose 
notes in small denominations would be taken to 
some distant part of the coiintry, whence it would 
be a long time before they were returned and 

The Distribution of the Surplus 147 

presented for payment. The speculators, with 
paper of which the real value was much below par, 
could outbid settlers and cultivators who could only 
offer specie, or notes that were its equivalent. He 
went on to say that "the effect was equally injurious 
to every interest concerned — except the banks and 
the speculators : it was injurious to the treasury, 
which was filling up with paper ; to the new States, 
which were flooded with paper ; and to settlers and 
cultivators, who were outbid by speculators loaded 
with this borrowed paper. A return to specie 
payments for lands was the remedy for all these 

Benton's reasoning was perfectly sound. The 
effects on settlers, on the new States, and on the 
government itself were precisely such as he de- 
scribed, and the proposed remedy was the right 
one. But his bill failed ; for the Whigs, including 
even Webster, had by this time worked themselves 
up until they were fairly crazy at the mere mention 
of paper-money banks. 

Jackson, however, not daunted by the fate of 
the bill, got Benton to draw up a treasur}^ order, 
and had it issued. This served the same purpose, 
as it forbade the land offices to receive anything 
but gold and silver in payment for land. It was 
not issued until Congress had adjourned, for fear 
that body might counteract it by a law ; and this 
was precisely what was attempted at the next 

148 Thomas Hart Benton 

session, when a joint resolution was passed rescind- 
ing the order, and practically endeavoring to im- 
pose the worthless paper currency of the States 
upon the federal government. Benton stood 
almost alone in the fight he made against this 
resolution, although the right of the matter was 
so plainly on his side. In his speech he foretold 
clearly the coming of the great financial crisis that 
was then near at hand. The resolution, however, 
amoimted to nothing, as it turned out, for it was 
passed so late in the session that the President, by 
simply withholding his signature from it, was 
enabled to prevent it from having effect. 



TOWARD the close of Jackson's adminis- 
tration, slavery for the first time made its 
permanent appearance in national politics ; 
although for some years yet it had little or no in- 
fluence in shaping the course of political move- 
ments. In 1833 the abolition societies of the 
North came into prominence; they had been 
started a couple of years previously. 

Black slavery was such a grossly anachronistic 
and im-American form of evil, that it is difficult 
to discuss calmly the efforts to abolish it, and to 
remember that many of these efforts were calcu- 
lated to do, and actually did, more harm than 
good. We are also very apt to forget that it was 
perfectly possible and reasonable for enlightened 
and virtuous men, who fully recognized it as an 
evil, yet to prefer its continuance to having it 
interfered with in a way that would produce even 
worse results. Black slavery in Hayti was char- 
acterized by worse abuse than ever was the case 
in the United States ; yet, looking at the condition 
of that republic now, it may weU be questioned 
whether it would not have been greatly to her 
benefit in the end to have had slavery continue a 


I50 Thomas Hart Benton 

century or so longer, — its ultimate extinction 
being certain, — rather than to have had her attain 
freedom as she actually did, with the results that 
have flowed from her action. When an evil of 
colossal size exists, it is often the case that there 
is no possible way of dealing with it that will not 
itself be fraught with baleful results. Nor can 
the ultra-philanthropic method be always, or even 
often, accepted as the best. If there is one ques- 
tion upon which the philanthropists of the present 
day, especially the more emotional ones, are 
agreed, it is that any law restricting Chinese im- 
migration is an outrage; yet it seems incredible 
that any man of even moderate intelligence should 
not see that no greater calamity could now befall 
the United States than to have the Pacific slope 
fill up with a Mongolian population. 

The cause of the Abolitionists has had such a 
halo shed round it by the after course of events, 
which they themselves in reality did very little to 
shape, that it has been usual to speak of them 
with absurdly exaggerated praise. Their cour- 
age, and for the most part their sincerity, cannot 
be too highly spoken of, but their share in abolish- 
ing slavery was far less than has commonly been 
represented ; any single non-abolitionist politician, 
like Lincoln or Seward, did more than all the 
professional Abolitionists combined really to bring 
about its destruction. The abolition societies 

Slave Question in Politics 151 

were only in a very restricted degree the causes 
of the growing feeling in the North against slav- 
ery ; they are rather to be regarded as themselves 
manifestations or accompaniments of that feeling. 
The anti-slavery outburst in the Northern States 
over the admission of Missouri took place a dozen 
years before there was an abolition society in 
existence ; and the influence of the professional 
Abolitionists upon the growi:h of the anti-slavery 
sentiment as often as not merely warped it and 
twisted it out of proper shape, — as when at one 
time they showed a strong inclination to adopt 
disunion views, although it was self-evident that 
by no possibility could slavery be abolished imless 
the Union was preserved. Their tendency toward 
impracticable methods was well shown in the posi- 
tion they assumed toward him who was not only 
the greatest American, but also the greatest man, 
of the nineteenth century ; for during all the ter- 
rible four years that sad, strong, patient Lincoln 
worked and suffered for the people, he had to 
dread the influence of the extreme Abolitionists 
only less than that of the Copperheads. Many 
of their leaders possessed no good qualities beyond 
their fearlessness and truth — qualities that were 
also possessed by the Southern fire-eaters. They 
belonged to that class of men that is always en- 
gaged in some agitation or other; only it hap- 
pened that in this particular agitation they were 

152 Thomas Hart Benton 

right. Wendell Phillips may be taken as a very 
good type of the whole. His services against 
slavery prior to the war should always be remem- 
bered with gratitude ; but after the war, and until 
the day of his death, his position on almost every 
public question was either mischievous or ridicu- 
lous, and usually both. 

When the abolitionist movement started it was 
avowedly designed to be cosmopolitan in charac- 
ter ; the originators looked down upon any merely 
national or patriotic feeling. This again deserv- 
edly took away from their influence. In fact, it 
would have been most unfortunate had the major- 
ity of the Northerners been from the beginning in 
hearty accord with the Abolitionists ; at the best 
it would have resulted at that time in the disrup- 
tion of the Union and the perpetuation of slavery 
in the South. 

But after all is said, the fact remains, that on 
the main issue the Abolitionists were at least 
working in the right direction. Sooner or later, 
by one means or another, slavery had to go. It 
is beyond doubt a misfortune that in certain dis- 
tricts the bulk of the population should be com- 
posed of densely ignorant negroes, often criminal 
or vicious in their instincts ; but such is the case, 
and the best, and indeed the only proper course to 
pursue, is to treat them with precisely the same 
justice that is meted out to whites. The effort to 

Slave Question in Politics 153 

do so in time immediately past has not resulted so 
successfully as was hoped and expected; but 
nevertheless no other way would have worked as 

Slavery was chiefly responsible for the streak of 
coarse and brutal barbarism which ran through 
the Southern character, and which marked the 
ferocious outcry instantly raised by the whole 
Southern press against the AboHtionists. There 
had been an abortive negro rising in Virginia 
almost at the same time that the abolitionist 
movement first came into prominence; and this 
fact added to the rage and terror with which the 
South regarded the latter. The clamor against 
the North was deafening ; and though it soon sub- 
sided for the time being, it never afterward en- 
tirely died away. As has been shown already, 
there had always been a strong separatist feeling 
in the South ; but hitherto its manifestations had 
been local and sporadic, never affecting all the 
States at the same time ; for it had never hap- 
pened that the cause which called forth any par- 
ticular manifestation was one bearing on the 
whole South alike. The alien and sedition laws 
were more fiercely resented in Virginia and Ken- 
tucky than in South Carolina ; the tariff, which so 
angered the latter, pleased Louisiana; and 
Georgia and Alabama alone w^re affected by the 
presence of great Indian communities within their 

154 Thomas Hart Benton 

borders. But slavery was an interest common to 
the whole South. When it was felt to be in any 
way menaced, all Southerners came together for 
its protection; and, from the time of the rise of 
the Abolitionists onward, the separatist move- 
ment throughout the South began to identify itself 
with the maintenance of slavery, and gradually to 
develop greater and greater strength. Its growth 
was furthered and hastened by the actions of the 
more ambitious and unscrupulous of the Southern 
politicians, who saw that it offered a chance for 
them to push themselves forward, and who were 
perfectly willing to wreak almost irreparable harm 
to the nation if by so doing they could advance 
their own selfish interests. It was in reference 
to these politicians that Benton quoted with 
approval a letter from ex-President Aladison, 
which ran: 

The danger is not to be concealed, that the sym- 
pathy arising from known causes, and the inculcated 
impression of a permanent incompatibility of interests 
between the South and the North may put it in the 
power of popular leaders, aspiring to the highest sta- 
tions, to unite the South, on some critical occasion, 
in a course that will end by creating a new theatre of 
great, though inferior, interest. In pursuing this 
course the first and most obvious step is nullification, 
the next secession, and the last a farewell separation. 

This was a pretty good forecast of the crisis 
that was precipitated by the greedy and reckless 

Slave Question in Politics 155 

ambition of the secessionist leaders in i860. The 
moral difference between Benedict Arnold on the 
one hand, and Aaron Burr or Jefferson Davis on 
the other, is precisely the difference that obtains 
between a politician who sells his vote for money 
and one who supports a bad measure in consider- 
ation of being given some high political position. 

The Abolitionists immediately contrived to 
bring themselves before the notice of Congress in 
two ways ; by the presentation of petitions for the 
abolition of slavery in the District of Columbia, 
and by sending out to the Southern States a shoal 
of abolition pamphlets, newspapers, and rather 
ridiculous illustrated cuts. What the precise 
point of the last proceeding was no one can tell; 
the circulation of such writings as theirs in the 
South could not possibly serve any good purpose. 
But they had a right to send what they wished, 
and the conduct of many of the Southerners in 
trying to get a federal law passed to prohibit their 
writings from being carried in the mail was as 
wrong as it was foolish; while the brutal clamor 
raised in the South against the whole North as 
well as against the Abolitionists, and the conduct 
of certain Southern legislatures, in practically 
setting prices on the heads of the leaders in the 
objectionable movement, in turn angered the 
North and gave the Abolitionists tenfold greater 
strength than they would otherwise have had. 

156 Thomas Hart Benton 

The question first arose upon the presentation 
of a perfectly proper and respectful petition sent 
to the Senate by a society of Pennsylvania Qua- 
kers, and praying for the abolition of slavery in 
the District of Columbia. The District was solely 
under the control of Congress, and was the prop- 
erty of the nation at large, so that Congress was 
the proper and the only body to which any peti- 
tion concerning the affairs of the District could be 
sent ; and if the right of petition meant anything, 
it certainly meant that the people, or any portion 
thereof, should have the right to petition their 
representatives in regard to their own affairs. Yet 
certain Southern extremists, tinder the lead of Cal- 
hoim, were anxious to refuse to receive the paper. 
Benton voted in favor of receiving it, and was 
followed in his action by a number of other South- 
em senators. He spoke at length on the subject, 
and quite moderately, even crediting the petition- 
ers, or many of them, with being "good people, 
aiming at benevolent objects, and endeavoring to 
ameliorate the condition of one part of the human 
race, without inflicting calamities on another 
part," which was going very far indeed for a slave- 
holding senator of that time. He was of course 
totally opposed to abolition and the Abolitionists, 
and showed that the only immediate effect of the 
movement had been to make the lot of the slaves 
still worse, and for the moment to do away with 

Slave Question in Politics 157 

any chance of intelligently discussing the question 
of emancipation. For, like many other South- 
erners, he fondly cherished the idea of gradual 
peaceful emancipation, — an idea which the course 
of events made wholly visionary, but which, under 
the circumstances, might well have been realized. 
He proceeded to give most questionable praise to 
the North for some acts as outrageous and dis- 
graceful as were ever perpetrated by its citizens, 
stating that — 

Their conduct was above all praise, above all 
thanks, above all gratitude. They had chased off 
the foreign emissaries, silenced the gabbling tongues 
of female dupes, and dispersed the assemblages, 
whether fanatical, visionary, or incendiary, of all that 
congregated to preach against evils that affected 
others, not themselves; and to propose remedies to 
aggravate the disease which they had pretended to 
cure. They had acted with a noble spirit. They 
had exerted a vigor beyond all law. They had 
obeyed the enactments, not of the statute-book, but 
of the heart. 

These fervent encomiums were fully warranted 
by the acts of various Northern mobs, that had 
maltreated aboUtionist speakers, broken up anti- 
slavery meetings, and committed niunerous other 
deeds of lawless violence. But however flattered 
the Northerners of that generation may have been, 
in feeling that they thoroughly deserved Benton's 
eulogy, it is doubtful if their descendants will 

158 Thomas Hart Benton 

take quite the same pride in looking back to it. 
An amusing incident of the debate was Calhoun's 
attack upon one of the most subservient allies the 
South ever had in the Northern States ; he caused 
to be sent up to the desk and read an abolition 
paper published in New Hampshire, which con- 
tained a bitter assault upon Franklin Pierce, then 
a member of Congress. Nominally he took this 
course to show that there was much greater 
strength in the abolition movement, and therefore 
much greater danger to the South, than the North- 
em senators were willing to admit; in reality he 
seems to have acted partly from wanton malice, 
partly from overbearing contempt for the truck- 
ling allies and apologists of slavery in the North, 
and partly from a desire not to see the discussion 
die out, but rather, in spite of his continual profes- 
sion to the contrary, to see it maintained as a 
standing subject of irritation. He wished to refuse 
to receive the petitions, on the ground that they 
touched a subject that ought not even to be dis- 
cussed ; yet he must have known well that he was 
acting in the very way most fitted to give rise to 
discussion, — a fact that was pointed out to him by 
Benton, in a caustic speech. He also took the 
groimd that the question of emancipation affected 
the States exclusively, and that Congress had no 
more jurisdiction over the subject in the District 
of Columbia than she had in the State of North 

Slave Question in Politics 159 

Carolina. This precious contribution to the true 
interpretation of the Constitution was so farcically 
and palpably false that it is incredible that he 
should himself have believed what he was saying. 
He was still smarting from the nullification con- 
troversy ; he had seceded from his party, and was 
sore with disappointed ambition; and it seems 
very improbable that he was honest in his profes- 
sions of regret at seeing questions come up which 
would disturb the Union. On the contrary, much 
of the opposition he was continually making to 
supposititious federal and Northern encroach- 
ments on the rights of the South must have been 
merely factious, and it seems likely that, partly 
from a feeling of revenge and partly with the hope 
of gratifying his ambition, he was anxious to do 
all he could to work the South up to the highest 
pitch of irritation, and keep her there until there 
was a dissolution of the Union. Benton evidently 
thought that this was the case ; and in reading the 
constant threats of nullification and secession 
which run through all Calhoim's speeches, and the 
innumerable references he makes to the alleged 
fact that he had come off victorious in his treason- 
able struggle over the tariff in 1833, it is difficult 
not to accept Benton's view of the matter. He 
always spoke of Calhoun with extreme aversion, 
and there were probably moments when he was 
inclined heartily to sympathize with Jackson's 

i6o Thomas Hart Benton 

death-bed regret that he had not hung the South 
CaroHna NuUifier. Doubtless in private life, or 
as regards any financial matters, Calhoun's con- 
duct was always blameless; but it may well be 
that he has received far more credit for purity of 
motive in his public conduct than his actions fairly 
entitle him to. 

Calhoun was also greatly exercised over the cir- 
culation of abolition dociiments in the South. At 
his request a committee of five was appointed to 
draft a bill on the subject; he was chairman, and 
three of the other four members were from the 
slave States; yet his report was so extreme that 
only one of the latter would sign it with him. He 
introduced into it a long argument to the effect 
that the Constitution was a mere compact between 
sovereign states, and inferentially that nullifica- 
tion and secession were justifiable and constitu- 
tional; and then drew a vivid picture of the 
unspeakable horrors with which, as he contended, 
the action of the Northern Abolitionists menaced 
the South. The bill subjected to penalties any 
postmaster who should knowingly receive and 
put into the mail any publication touching slavery, 
to go into any State which had forbidden by law 
the circulation of such a publication. In discuss- 
ing this bill he asserted that Congress, in refusing 
to pass it, would be cooperating with the Aboli- 
tionists ; and then he went on to threaten as usual 

Slave Question in Politics i6i 

that in such case nulHfication or secession would 
become necessary. Benton had become pretty 
well tired of these threats, his attachment to the 
Union even exceeding his dislike to seeing slavery 
meddled with; and he headed the list of half a 
dozen Southern senators who joined with the bulk 
of the Northerners in defeating the bill, which 
was lost by a vote of twenty-five to nineteen. A 
few of the Northern "dough-faces" voted with 
Calhoun. There is a painfully striking contrast 
between the courage shown by Benton, a slave- 
holder with a slaveholding constituency, in op- 
posing this bill, and the obsequious subserviency 
to the extreme Southern feeling shown on the 
same occasion by Wright, Van Buren, and Bu- 
chanan — fit representatives of the sordid and 
odious political organizations of New York and 

Several other questions came up toward the end 
of Jackson's administration which were more or 
less remotely affected by the feeling about slavery. 
Benton succeeded in getting a bill through to 
extend the boundaries of the State of Missouri so 
as to take in territory lying northwest of her pre- 
vious limit, the Indian title to which was extin- 
guished by treaty. This annexed land lay north 
of the boundary for slave territory established by 
the Missouri Compromise; but Benton experi- 
enced no difficulty in getting his bill through. It 


162 Thomas Hart Benton 

was not, however, in the least a move designed in 
the interests of the slave power. Missouri's feeling 
was precisely that which would actuate Oregon or 
Washington Territory to-day, if either wished to 
annex part of northern Idaho. 

The territories of Arkansas and Michigan had 
applied for admission into the Union as States; 
and as one would be a free and the other a slave 
State, it was deemed proper that they should come 
in together. Benton himself urged the admission 
of the free State of Michigan, while the interests 
of Arkansas were confided to Buchanan of Penn- 
sylvania. The slavery question entered but little 
into the matter; although some objections were 
raised on that score, as well as on account of the 
irregular manner in which the would-be States 
had acted in preparing for admission. The real 
ground of opposition to the admission of the two 
new States was political, as it was known that 
they could both be relied upon for Democratic 
majorities at the approaching presidential election. 
Many Whigs, therefore, both from the North and 
the South, opposed it. 

The final removal of the Cherokees from Georgia 
and Alabama was brought about in 1836 by means 
of a treaty with those Indians. Largely through 
the instrumentality of Benton, and in spite of the 
opposition of Clay, Calhoun, and Webster, this 
instrument was ratified in the Senate by the close 

Slave Question in Politics 163 

vote of thirty-one to fifteen, Altliough new slave 
territory was thus acquired, the vote on the treaty 
was fractional and not sectional, being equally 
divided between the Northern and the Southern 
States, Calhoun and six other Southern senators 
opposing it, chiefly from hostility to the adminis- 
tration. The removal of the Indians was prob- 
ably a necessity ; undoubtedly it worked hardship 
in individual instances, but on the whole it did not 
in the least retard the civilization of the tribe, 
which was fully paid for its losses ; and moreover, 
in its new home, continued to make progress in 
every way until it became involved in the great 
Civil War, and received a setback from which it 
has not yet recovered. These Cherokees were 
almost the last Indians left in any number east of 
the j\Iississippi, and their removal solved the 
Indian problem so far as the old States were con- 

Later on, Benton went to some trouble to dis- 
prove the common statement that we have robbed 
the original Indian occupants of their lands. He 
showed by actual statistics that up to 1840 we had 
paid to the Indians eighty-five milhons of dollars 
for land purchases, which was over five times as 
much as the United States gave the great Napo- 
leon for Louisiana ; and about three times as much 
as we paid France, Spain, and Mexico together for 
the purchase of Louisiana, Florida, and California ; 

i64 Thomas Hart Benton 

while the amount of land received in return would 
not equal any one of these purchases, and was but 
a fractional part of Louisiana or California. We 
paid the Cherokees for their territory exactly as 
much as we paid the French, at the height of their 
power, for Louisiana; while as to the Creek and 
Choctaw nations, we paid each more for their lands 
than we paid for Louisiana and Florida combined. 
The dealings of the government with the Indian 
have often been imwise, and sometimes unjust; 
but they are very far indeed from being so black 
as is commonly represented, especially when the 
tremendous difficulties of the case are taken into 

Far more important than any of these matters 
was the acknowledgment of the independence of 
Texas ; and in this, as well as in the troubles with 
Mexico which sprang from it, slavery again played 
a prominent part, although not nearly so impor- 
tant at first as has commonly been represented. 
Doubtless the slaveholders worked hard to secure 
additional territory out of which to form new 
slave States ; but Texas and California would have 
been in the end taken by us, had there not been a 
single slave in the Mississippi valley. The greed 
for the conquest of new lands which characterized 
the Western people had nothing whatever to do 
with the fact that some of them owTied slaves. 
Long before there had been so much as the faintest 

Slave Question in Politics 165 

foreshadowing of the importance which the 
slavery question was to assume, the West had 
been eagerly pressing on to territorial conquest, 
and had been chafing and fretting at the restraint 
put upon it, and at the limits set to its strivings by 
the treaties established with foreign powders. The 
first settlers beyond the Alleghanies, and their 
immediate successors, who moved down along the 
banks of the Ohio, the Cumberland, and the Ten- 
nessee, and thence out to the Mississippi itself, 
were not generally slaveholders; but they were 
all as anxious to wrest the Mississippi valley from 
the control of the French as their descendants 
were to overrun the Spanish lands lying along the 
Rio Grande. In other words, slavery had very 
little to do with the Western aggressions on ]\Iex- 
ican territory, however it might influence the 
views of Southern statesmen as to lending support 
to the Western schemes. 

The territorial boundaries of all the great powers 
originally claiming the soil of the West — France, 
Spain, and the United States — were very ill- 
defined, there being no actual possession of the 
lands in dispute, and each power making a great 
showing on its own map. If the extreme views of 
any one were admitted, its adversary, for the time 
being, would have had nothing. Thus before the 
treaty of 181 9 with Spain our nominal boundaries 
and those of the latter power in the West over- 

i66 Thomas Hart Benton 

lapped each other ; and the extreme Western men 
persisted in saying that we had given up some of 
the territory which belonged to us because we had 
consented to adopt the middle line of division, and 
had not insisted upon being allowed the full extent 
of our claims. Benton always took this view of it, 
insisting that we had given up our rights by the 
adoption of this treaty. Many Southerners im- 
proved on this idea, and spoke of the desirability 
of "reannexing" the territory we had surrendered, 
endeavoring by the use of this very inappropriate 
word to give a color of right to their proceedings. 
As a matter of fact it was inevitable, as well as in 
the highest degree desirable for the good of human- 
ity at large, that the American people should ulti- 
mately crowd out the Alexicans from their sparsely 
populated northern provinces. But it was quite 
as desirable that this should not be done in the 
interests of slavery. 

American settlers had begim to press into the 
outlying Spanish province of Texas before the 
treaty of 1819 was ratified. Their nimibers went 
on increasing, and at first the Mexican govern- 
ment, having achieved independence of Spain, 
encouraged their incoming. But it soon saw that 
their presence boded danger, and forbade further 
immigration ; without effect, however, as the set- 
tlers and adventurers came thronging in as fast as 
ever. The Americans had brought their slaves 

Slave Question in Politics 167 

with them, and when the Mexican government 
issued a decree Hberating all slaves, they refused 
to be bound by it ; and this decree was among the 
reasons alleged for their revolt. It has been repre- 
sented as the chief if not the sole cause of the 
rebellion; but in reality it was not the cause at 
all; it was merely one of the occasions. Long 
before slavery had been abolished in ]\Iexico, and 
before it had become an exciting question in the 
United States, the infant colony of Texas, when 
but a few months old, had made an abortive 
attempt at insurrection. Any one who has ever 
been on the frontier, and who knows anything 
whatever of the domineering, masterful spirit and 
bitter race prejudices of the white frontiersmen, 
will acknowledge at once that it was out of the 
question that the Texans should long continue 
imder Mexican rule; and it would have been a 
great misfortime if they had. It was out of the 
question to expect them to submit to the mastery 
of the weaker race, which they were supplanting. 
Whatever might be the pretexts alleged for revolt 
the real reasons were to be found in the deeply 
marked difference of race, and in the absolute 
imfitness of the Mexicans then to govern them- 
selves, to say nothing of governing others. During 
the dozen years that the American colony in Texas 
formed part of Mexico, the government of the 
latter went through revolution after revolution, — 

i68 Thomas Hart Benton 

republic, empire, and military dictatorship fol- 
lowing one another in bewildering succession. 
A state of things like this in the central govern- 
ment, especially when the latter belonged to a race 
alien in blood, language, religion, and habits of 
life, would warrant any community in determining 
to shift for itself. Such would probably have been 
the result even on people as sober and peaceable 
as the Texan settlers were warlike, reckless, and 

But the majority of those who fought for Texan 
independence were not men who had already set- 
tled in that territory, but, on the contrary, were 
adventurers from the States, who had come to help 
their kinsmen and to win for themselves, by their 
own prowess, homes on what was then Mexican 
soil. It may as well be frankly admitted that the 
conduct of the American frontiersmen all through 
this contest can be justified on no possible plea of 
international morality or law. Still, we cannot 
judge them by the same standard we should apply 
to the dealings between highly civilized powers of 
approximately the same grade of virtue and intel- 
ligence. Two nations may be contemporaneous 
so far as mere years go, and yet, for all that, may 
be existing among surroundings which practically 
are centuries apart. The nineteenth century on 
the banks of the Thames, the Seine, and the Rhine, 
or even of the Hudson and the Potomac, was one 

Slave Question in Politics 169 

thing ; the nineteenth century in the valley of the 
Rio Grande was another and quite a different 

The conquest of Texas should properly be classed 
with conquests like those of the Norse sea-rovers. 
The virtues and faults alike of the Texans were 
those of a barbaric age . They were restless, brave , 
and eager for adventure, excitement, and plunder; 
they were warlike, resolute, and enterprising; they 
had all the marks of a young and hardy race, 
flushed with the pride of strength and self-confi- 
dence. On the other hand, they showed again and 
again the barbaric vices of boastfulness, ignorance, 
and cruelty ; and they were utterly careless of the 
rights of others, looking upon the possessions of 
all weaker races as simply their natural prey. A 
band of settlers entering Texas was troubled by no 
greater scruples of conscience than, a thousand 
years before, a shipload of Knut's followers might 
have felt at landing in England ; and when they 
were engaged in warfare with the Mexicans they 
could count with certainty upon assistance from 
their kinsfolk who had been left behind, and for 
the same reasons that had enabled Rolf's Norse- 
men on the seacoast of France to rely confidently 
on Scandinavian help in their quarrels with their 
Karling over-lords. The great Texan hero, Hous- 
ton, who drank hard and fought hard, who was 
mighty in battle and crafty in council, with his 

I70 Thomas Hart Benton 

reckless, boastful courage and his thirst for 
changes and risks of all kinds, his propensity 
for private brawling, and his queeriy blended 
impulses for good and evil, might, with very 
superficial alterations of character, stand as the 
type of an old world Viking — plus the virtue of a 
deep and earnestly patriotic attachment to his 
whole country. Indeed his career was as pic- 
turesque and romantic as that of Harold Hard- 
raada himself, and, to boot, was much more im- 
portant in its results. 

Thus the Texan struggle for independence stirred 
up the greatest sympathy and enthusiasm in the 
United States. The administration remained 
nominally neutral, but obviously sympathized 
with the Texan s, permitting aims and men to be 
sent to their help, without hindrance, and indeed 
doing not a little discreditable bullying in the 
diplomatic dealing with Mexico, which that im- 
fortimate community had her hands too full to 
resent. Still we did not commit a more flagrant 
breach of neutrality than, for instance, England 
was at the same time engaged in committing in 
reference to the civil wars in Spain. The victory 
of San Jacinto, in which Houston literally anni- 
hilated a Mexican force twice the strength of his 
own, virtually decided the contest ; and the Senate 
at once passed a resolution recognizing the inde- 
pendence of Texas, Calhoun wished that body 

Slave Question in Politics 171 

to go farther, and forthwith admit Texas as a State 
into the Union; but Benton and his colleagues 
were not prepared to take such a step at so early 
a date, although intending of course that in the 
end she should be admitted. There was little 
opposition to the recognition of Texan independ- 
ence, although a few members of the lower house, 
headed by Adams, voted against it. While a 
cabinet officer, and afterward as president, 
Adams had done all that he could to procure by 
purchase or treaty the very land which was after- 
ward the cause of our troubles with Mexico. 

Much the longest and most elaborate speech in 
favor of the recognition of Texan independence 
was made by Benton, to whom the subject ap- 
pealed very strongly. He announced emphatically 
that he spoke as a Western senator, voicing the 
feeling of the West ; and he was right. The op- 
position to the growth of our coimtry on its south- 
western frontier was almost confined to the 
Northeast; the West as a whole, free States as 
well as slave, heartily favored the movement. 
The settlers of Texas had come mainly, it is true, 
from the slave States; but there were also many 
who had been bom north of the Ohio. It was a 
matter of comment that the guns used at San 
Jacinto had come from Cincinnati — and so had 
some of those who served them. 

In Benton's speech he began by pointing out the 

172 Thomas Hart Benton 

impropriety of doing what Calhoun had done in 
attempting to compKcate the question of the recog- 
nition of Texan independence with the admission 
of Texas as a State. He then proceeded to claim 
for us a good deal more credit than we were en- 
titled to for our efforts to preserve neutrality; 
drew a very true picture of the commercial bonds 
that united us to Mexico, and of the necessity that 
they should not be lightly broken ; gave a spirited 
sketch of the course of the war hitherto, condemn- 
ing without stint the horrible butcheries com- 
mitted by the Mexicans, but touching gingerly on 
the savage revenge taken by the Americans in 
their turn ; and ended by a eulogy of the Texans 
themselves, and their leaders. 

It was the age of "spread-eagle" speeches, and 
many of Benton's were no exception to the rule. 
As a people we were yet in a condition of raw, 
crude immaturity; and our very sensitiveness to 
foreign criticism — a sensitiveness which we now 
find it difficult to understand — and the realiza- 
tion of our own awkwardness made us inclined to 
brag about and exaggerate our deeds. Our public 
speakers and writers acquired the abominable 
habit of speaking of everything and everybody 
in the United States in the superlative ; and there- 
fore, as we claimed the highest rank for all our 
fourth-rate men, we put it out of our power to 
do justice to the really first-rate ones; and on 

Slave Question in Politics 173 

account of our continual exaggerations we were 
not believed by others, and hardly even believed 
ourselves, when we presented estimates that were 
truthful. When every public speaker was de- 
clared to be a Demosthenes or a Cicero, people 
failed to realize that we actually had, in Webster, 
the greatest orator of the century; and when 
every general who whipped an Indian tribe was^ 
likened to Napoleon, we left ourselves no words 
with which properly to characterize the really 
heroic deeds done from time to time in the grim 
frontier warfare. All Benton's oratory took on 
this lurid coloring ; and in the present matter his 
final eulogy of the Texan warriors was greatly 
strained, though it would hardly have been in his 
power to pay too high a tribute to some of the 
deeds they had done. It was the heroic age of 
the Southwest ; though, as with every other heroic 
age, there were plenty of failings, vices, and weak- 
nesses visible, if the standpoint of observation was 
only close enough. 



IN his dealings with the Bank and his disposal 
of the deposits Jackson ate sour grapes to his 
heart's content; and now the teeth of his 
adopted child Van Buren were to be set on edge. 

Van Buren was the first product of what are 
now called "machine politics" that was put into 
the presidential chair. He owed his elevation 
solely to his own dexterous political manipulation, 
and to the fact that, for his own selfish ends, and 
knowing perfectly well their folly, he had yet 
favored or connived at all the actions into which 
the administration had been led either through 
Jackson's ignorance and violence, or by the crafty 
unscrupulousness and limited knowledge of the 
kitchen cabinet. The people at large would never 
have thought of him for president of their own 
accord; but he had become Jackson's pohtical 
legatee, partly because he had personally endeared 
himself to the latter, and partly because the poli- 
ticians felt that he was a man whom they could 
trust. The Jacksonian Democracy was already 
completely ruled by a machine, of which the most 
important cogs were the countless office-holders, 
whom the spoils system had already converted 


Teeth are Set on Edge 175 

into a band of well-drilled political mercenaries. 
A political machine can only be brought to a state 
of high perfection in a party containing very 
many ignorant and uneducated voters; and the 
Jacksonian Democracy held in its ranks the mass 
of the ignorance of the country. Besides this, 
such an organization requires, in order that it 
may do its most effective work, to have as its 
leader and figurehead, a man who really has a 
great hold on the people at large, and who yet can 
be managed by such politicians as possess the 
requisite adroitness; and Jackson fulfilled both 
these conditions. The famous kitchen cabinet 
was so called because its members held no official 
positions, and yet were known to have Jackson 
more under their influence than was the case with 
his nominal advisers. They stood as the first 
representatives of a type common enough after- 
ward, and of which Thurlow Weed was perhaps 
the best example. They were men who held no 
public position, and yet devoted their whole time 
to politics, and pulled the strings in obedience to 
which the apparent public leaders moved. 

Jackson liked Van Buren because the latter had 
served him both personally and politically — 
indeed Jackson was incapable of distinguishing be- 
tween a political and a personal service. This lik- 
ing, however, would not alone have advanced Van 
Buren's interests, if the latter, who was himself 

176 Thomas Hart Benton 

a master in the New York state machine, had 
not also succeeded in enHsting the good-will and 
self-interest of the members of the kitchen cabi- 
net and the other intimate advisers of the Presi- 
dent. These first got Jackson himself thoroughly 
committed to Van Buren, and then used his name 
and enormous influence with the masses, coupled 
with their own mastery of machine methods, to 
bring about the New Yorker's nomination. In 
both these moves they had been helped, and Van 
Buren's chances had been immensely improved, 
by an incident that had seemed at the time very 
imfortimate for the latter. When he was secre- 
tary of state, in carrying on negotiations with 
Great Britain relative to the West India trade, he 
had so far forgotten what was due to the dignity of 
the nation as to allude disparagingly, while thus 
communicsting with a foreign power, to the course 
pursued by the previous administration. This 
extension of party lines into our foreign diplo- 
macy was discreditable to the whole country. The 
anti-administration men bitterly resented it, and 
emphasized their resentment by rejecting the 
nomination of Van Buren when Jackson wished to 
make him minister to England. Their action was 
perfectly proper, and Van Buren, by right, should 
have suffered for his imdignified and impatriotic 
conduct. But instead of this, and in accordance 
with the eternal unfitness of things, what really 

Teeth are Set on Edge 177 

happened was that his rejection by the Senate 
actually helped him ; for Jackson promptly made 
the quarrel his owti, and the masses blindly fol- 
lowed their idol. Benton exultingly and truth- 
fully said that the President's foes had succeeded 
in breaking a minister only to make a president. 

Van Buren faithfully served the mammon of 
unrighteousness, both in his o\\ti State and, later 
on, at Washington ; and he had his reward, for he 
was advanced to the highest offices in the gift of 
the nation. He had no reason to blame his own 
conduct for his final downfall; he got just as far 
along as he could possibly get; he succeeded be- 
cause of, and not in spite of, his moral shortcom- 
ings ; if he had always governed his actions by a 
high moral standard he would probably never have 
been heard of. Still, there is some comfort in 
reflecting that, exactly as he was made president 
for no virtue of his own, but simply on account 
of being Jackson's heir, so he was turned out of the 
office, not for personal failure, but because he was 
taken as scapegoat, and had the sins of his political 
fathers visited on his own head. 

The opposition to the election of Van Buren 

was very much disorganized, the Whig party not 

yet having solidified, — indeed it always remained 

a somewhat fluid body. The election did not have 

the slightest sectional significance, slavery not 

entering into it, and both Northern and Southern 

178 Thomas Hart Benton 

States voting without the least reference to the 
geographical belongings of the candidates. He 
was the last true Jacksonian Democrat — Union 
Democrat — who became president; the South 
Carolina separatists and many of their fellows 
refused to vote for him. The Democrats who 
came after him, on the contrary, all had leanings 
to the separatist element which so soon obtained 
absolute control of the party, to the fierce indigna- 
tion of men like Benton, Houston, and the other 
old Jacksonians, whose sincere devotion to the 
Union will always entitle them to the gratitude of 
every true American. As far as slavery was con- 
cerned, however, the Southerners had hitherto had 
nothing whatever to complain of in Van Buren's 
attitude. He was careful to inform them in his 
inaugural address that he would not sanction any 
attempt to interfere with the institution, whether 
by abolishing it in the District of Columbia or in 
any other way distasteful to the South. He also 
expressed a general hope that he would be able 
throughout to follow in the footsteps of Jackson. 

He had hardly been elected before the ruinous 
financial policy to which he had been party, but 
of which the effects, it must in justice be said, 
were aggravated by many of the actions of the 
Whigs, began to bear fruit after its kind. The 
use made of the surplus was bad enough, but the 
withdrawal of the United States deposits from one 

Teeth are Set on Edge 179 

responsible bank and their distribution among 
scores of others, many of which were in the most 
rickety condition, was a step better calculated 
than any other to bring about a financial crash. 
It gave a stimulus to extravagance, and evoked 
the wildest spirit of speculation that the country 
had yet seen. The local banks, to whom the cus- 
tody of the public moneys had been entrusted, 
used them as funds which they and their custom- 
ers could hazard for the chance of gain ; and the 
gambling spirit, always existent in the American 
mercantile community, was galvanized into furious 
life. The public dues were payable in the paper 
of these deposit banks and of the countless others 
that were even more irresponsible. The deposit 
banks thus became filled up wdth a motley mass 
of more or less worthless bank paper, which thus 
formed the "surplus," of which the distribution, 
had caused Congress so much worry. Their condi- 
tion was desperate, as they had been managed with 
the most reckless disregard for the morrow. Many 
of them had hardly kept as much specie in hand 
as would amount to one-fiftieth of the aggregate 
of their deposits and other immediate liabilities. 

The people themselves were of course primarily 
responsible for the then existing state of affairs; 
but the government had done all in its power to 
make matters worse . Panics were certain to occur 
more or less often in so speculative and venture- 

i8o Thomas Hart Benton 

some a mercantile community, where there was 
such heedless trust in the future and such reck- 
lessness in the use of credit. But the government, 
by its actions, immensely increased the severity of 
this particular panic, and became the prime factor 
in precipitating its advent. Benton tried to throw 
the blame mainly on the bankers and politicians, 
who, he alleged, had formed an alliance for the 
overthrow of the administration ; but he made the 
plea more half-heartedly than usual, and probably 
in his secret soul acknowledged its puerility. 

The mass of the people were still happy in the 
belief that all things were working well, and that 
their show of unexampled prosperity and business 
activity denoted a permanent and healthy condi- 
tion. Yet all the signs pointed to a general col- 
lapse at no distant date ; an era of general bank 
suspensions, of depreciated currency, and of insol- 
vency of the federal treasury was at hand. No 
one but Benton, however, seemed able to read the 
signs aright, and his foreboding utterances were 
laughed at or treated with scorn by his fellow 
statesmen. He recalled the memory of the times 
of 1 818-19, when the treasury reports of one year 
showed a superfluity of revenue of which there 
was no want, and those of the next showed a 
deficit which required to be relieved by a loan; 
and he foretold an infinitely worse result from the 
inflation of the paper system, saying: 

Teeth are Set on Edge i8i 

Are we not at this moment, and from the same 
cause, realizing the first part — the elusive and treach- 
erous part — of this picture? and must not the other, 
tjhe sad and real sequel, speedily follow? The day of 
revulsion in its effects may be more or less disastrous ; 
but come it must. The present bloat in the paper 
system cannot continue; violent contraction must 
follow enormous expansion; a scene of distress and 
suffering must ensue — to come of itself out of the 
present state of things, without being stimulated and 
helped on by our unwise legislation. . , . I am one 
of those who promised gold, not paper; I did not join 
in putting doivn the Bank of the United States to ptit up 
a wilderness of local banks. I did not join in putting 
down the currency of a national bank to put up a 
national paper currency of a thousand local banks. I 
did not strike Caesar to make Antony master of Rome. 

These last sentences referred to the passage of 
the act repealing the specie circular and making 
the notes of the banks receivable in payment of 
federal dues. The act was most mischievous, and 
Benton's criticisms both of it and of the great 
Whig senator who pressed it were perfectly just; 
but they apply with quite as much weight to Jack- 
son's dealings with the deposits, which Benton had 

Benton foresaw the coming of the panic so 
clearly, and was so particularly uneasy about the 
immediate effects upon the governmental treasury, 
that he not only spoke publicly on the matter in 
the Senate, but even broached the subject in the 

i82 Thomas Hart Benton 

course of a private conversation with the Presi- 
dent-elect, to get him to try to make what prep- 
aration he could. Van Buren, cool, skilful, and 
far-sighted politician though he w^as, on this occa- 
sion showed that he was infected with the com- 
mon delusion as to the solidity of the country's 
business prosperity. He was very friendly with 
Benton, and was trying to get him to take a posi- 
tion in his cabinet, which the latter refused, pre- 
ferring service in the Senate ; but now he listened 
with scant courtesy to the warning, and paid no 
heed to it. Benton, an intensely proud man, 
would not speak again ; and everything went on 
as before . The law distributing the surplus among 
the States began to take effect ; under its opera- 
tions drafts for milHons of dollars were made on 
the banks containing the deposits, and these banks, 
already sinking, were utterly imable to honor 
them. It would have been impossible, imder any 
circumstances, for the President to ward off the 
blow, but he might at least, by a little forethought 
and preparation, have saved the government from 
some galling humiliations. Had Benton's advice 
been followed, the moneys called for by the appro- 
priation acts might have been drawn from the 
banks, and the disbursing officers might have been 
prevented from depositing in them the sums 
which they drew from the treasury to provide 
for their ordinary expenses ; thus the government 

Teeth are Set on Edge 183 

would have been spared the disgrace of being 
obliged to stop the actual daily payments to the 
public servants; and the nation would not have 
seen such a spectacle as its rulers presented when 
they had not a dollar with which to pay even a 
day laborer, while at the same time a law was 
standing on the statute-book providing for the 
distribution of forty millions of nominal surplus. 

No effort was made to stave off even so much of 
the impending disaster as was at that late date 
preventable; and a few days after Van Buren's 
inauguration the country was in the throes of the 
worst and most widespread financial panic it has 
ever seen. The distress was fairly appalling both 
in its intensity and in its imiversal distribution. 
All the banks stopped payment, and bankruptcy 
was universal. Bank paper depreciated with 
frightful rapidity, especially in the West; specie 
increased in value so that all the coin in the coun- 
try, down to the lowest denomination, was almost 
immediately taken out of circulation, being either 
hoarded or gathered for shipment abroad as bul- 
lion. For small change every kind of device was 
made use of, — tokens, bank-bills for a few cents 
each, or brass and iron coimters. 

Benton and others pretended to believe that the 
panic was the result of a deep-laid plot on the part 
of the rich classes, who controlled the banks, to 
excite popular hostility against the Jacksonian 

i84 Thomas Hart Benton 

Democracy, on account of the caste antagonism 
which these same richer classes were supposed to 
feel toward the much-vaunted "party of the 
people;" and as Benton's mental vision was 
singularly warped in regard to some subjects, 
it is possible that the belief was not altogether a 
pretense. It is entirely unnecessary now seri- 
ously to discuss the proposition that it would be 
possible to drag the commercial classes into so 
widespread and profoundly secret a conspiracy, 
with such a vague end in view, and the certainty 
that they themselves would be, from a business 
standpoint, the main sufferers. 

The efforts made by Benton and the other Jack- 
sonians to stem the tide of public feeling and 
direct it through the well-worn channel of sus- 
picious fear of, and anger at, the banks, as the true 
authors of the general wretchedness, were unavail- 
ing ; the stream swelled into a torrent and ran like 
a mill-race in the opposite way. The popular 
clamor against the administration was deafening; 
and if much of it was based on good grounds, much 
of it was also unreasonable. But a very few years 
before the Jacksonians had appealed to a senseless 
public dislike of the so-called "money power," in 
order to help themselves to victory ; and now they 
had the chagrin of seeing an only less irrational 
outcry raised against themselves in turn, and used 
to oust them from their places, with the same 

Teeth are Set on Edge 185 

effectiveness which had previously attended their 
own frothy and loud-mouthed declamations. The 
people were more than ready to listen to any one 
who could point out, or pretend to point out, the 
authors of, and the reasons for, the calamities that 
had befallen them. Their condition was pitiable ; 
and this was especially true in the newer and West- 
em States, where in many places there was abso- 
lutely no money at all in circulation, even the men 
of means not being able to get enough coin or its 
equivalent to make the most ordinary purchases. 
Trade was at a complete standstill ; laborers were 
thrown out of employment and left almost starv- 
ing ; farmers, merchants, mechanics, craftsmen of 
every sort, — all alike were in the direst distress. 
They naturally, in seeking relief, turned to the 
government, it being almost always the case that 
the existing administration receives more credit if 
the country is prosperous, and greater blame if it 
is not, than in either case it is rightfully entitled 
to. The Democracy was now held to strict reck- 
oning, not only for some of its numerous real sins, 
but also for a good many imaginary ones ; and the 
change in the political aspect of many of the com- 
monwealths was astounding. Jackson's own home 
State of Tennessee became strongly Whig; and 
Van Buren had the mortification of seeing New 
York follow suit ; two stinging blows to the Presi- 
dent and the ex-President. The distress was a 

i86 Thomas Hart Benton 

godsend to the Whig politicians. They fairly 
raved in their anger against the administration, 
and denounced all its acts, good and bad alike, 
with fluent and incoherent impartiality. Indeed, 
in their speeches, and in the petitions which they 
circulated and then sent to the President, they 
used language that was to the last degree absurd 
in its violence and exaggeration, and drew descrip- 
tions of the iniquities of the rulers of the country 
which were so overwrought as to be merely ridicu- 
lous. The speeches about the panic, and in refer- 
ence to the proposed laws to alleviate it, were 
remarkable for their inflation, even in that age 
of windy oratory. 

Van Buren, Benton, and their associates stood 
bravely up against the storm of indignation which 
swept over the whole country, and lost neither 
head nor nerve. They needed both to extricate 
themselves with any credit from the position in 
which they were placed. In deference to the 
urgent wish of almost all the people an extra ses- 
sion of Congress was called especially to deal with 
the panic. Van Buren's message to this oody was 
a really statesmanlike document, going exhaust- 
ively into the subject of the national finances. 
The Democrats still held the majority in both 
houses, but there was so large a floating vote, and 
the margins were so narrow, as to make the admin- 
istration feel that its hold was precarious. 

Teeth are Set on Ed^e 187 

The first thing to be done was to provide for 
the immediate wants of the government, which 
had not enough money to pay even its most neces- 
sary running expenses. To make this temporary 
provision two plans were proposed. The fourth 
instalment of the surplus — ten millions — was due 
to the States, As there was really no surplus, but 
a deficit instead, it was proposed to repeal the 
deposit law so far as it affected their fourth pay- 
ment; and treasury notes were to be issued to 
provide for immediate and pressing needs. 

The Whigs frantically attacked the President's 
proposals, and held him and his party accountable 
for all the evils of the panic ; and in truth it was 
right enough to hold them so accoimtable for part ; 
but, after all, the harm was largely due to causes 
existing throughout the civilized world, and espe- 
cially to the speculative folly rife among the whole 
American people. But it is always an easy and a 
comfortable thing to hold others responsible for 
what is primarily our ow*n fault. 

Benton did not believe, as a matter of principle, 
in the issue of treasury notes, but supported the 
bill for that purpose on account of the sore straits 
the administration was in, and its dire need of 
assistance from any source. He treated it as a 
disagreeable but temporary makeshift, only allow- 
able on the ground of the sternest and most grind- 
ing necessity. He stated that he supported the 

i88 Thomas Hart Benton 

issue only because the treasury notes were made 
out in such a form that they could not become 
currency; they were merely loan notes. Their 
chief characteristic was that they bore interest; 
they were transferable only by indorsement ; were 
payable at a fixed time; were not reissuable, nor 
of small denominations ; and were to be canceled 
when paid. Such being the case he favored their 
issue, but expressly stated that he only did so on 
account of the urgency of the governmental wants ; 
and that he disapproved of any such issue imtil 
the ordinary resources of taxes and loans had been 
tried to the utmost and failed. "I distrust, dis- 
like, and would fain eschew this treasury-note 
resource; I prefer the direct loans of 1820-21. I 
could only bring myself to support this present 
measure when it was urged that there was not 
time to carry a loan through in its forms ; nor even 
then would I consent to it until every feature of a 
currency character had been eradicated from the 


A sharp struggle took place over the bill brought 
in by the friends of the administration and advo- 
cated by Benton, to repeal the obligation to de- 
posit the fourth instalment of the surplus with the 
States. This scheme of a distribution, thinly 
disguised under the name of deposit to soothe 
the feelings of Calhoun and the other strict con- 
structionist pundits, had worked nothing but 

Teeth are Set on Edge 189 

mischief from the start ; and now that there was 
no surplus to distribute, it would seem incredible 
that there should have been opposition to its 
partial repeal. Yet Webster, Clay, and their 
followers strenuously opposed even such repeal. 
It is possible that their motives were honest, but 
much more probable that they were actuated 
by partisan hostility to the administration, 
or that they believed they would increase their 
o-^Ti popularity by favoring a plan that seem- 
ingly distributed money as a gift among the 
States. The bill was finally amended so as to 
make it imperative to pay this fourth instalment 
in a couple of years; yet it was not then paid, 
since on the date appointed the national treasury 
was bankrupt and the States could therefore never 
get the money, — which was the only satisfactory 
incident in the whole proceeding. The financial 
theories of Jackson and Benton were crude and 
vicious, it is true, but Webster, Clay, and most 
other public men of the day seem to have held 
ideas on the subject that were almost, if not quite, 
as mischievous. 

The great financial measures advocated by the 
administration of Van Buren, and championed 
with especial zeal by Benton, were those provid- 
ing for an independent treasury and for hard- 
money payments; that is, providing that the 
government should receive nothing but gold and 

I go Thomas Hart Benton 

silver for its revenues, and that this gold and silver 
should be kept by its own officers in real, not con- 
structive, treasuries, — in strong buildings, with 
special officers to hold the keys. The treasury 
was to be at Washington, with branches or sub- 
treasuries at the principal points of collection and 

These measures, if successful, meant that there 
would be a total separation of the federal govern- 
ment from all banks ; in the political language of 
the times they became known as those for the 
divorce of bank and state. Hitherto the local 
banks chosen by Jackson to receive the deposits 
had been actively hostile to Biddle's great bank 
and to its friends; but self-interest now united 
them all in violent opposition to the new scheme. 
Webster, Clay, and the Whigs generally fought it 
bitterly in the Senate ; but Calhotm now left his 
recent allies and joined with Benton in securing 
its passage. However, it was for the time being 
defeated in the House of Representatives. Most 
of the opposition to it was characterized by sheer 
loud-mouthed demagogy — cries that the govern- 
ment was too aristocratic to accept the money that 
was thought good enough for the people, and simi- 
lar claptrap. Benton made a very earnest plea 
for hard money, and especially denounced the doc- 
trine that it was the government's duty to inter- 
fere in any way in private business ; for, as usual 

Teeth are Set on Edge 191 

in times of general distress, a good many people 
had a vague idea that in some way the govern- 
ment ought to step in and relieve them from the 
consequences of their own folly. 

Meanwhile the banks had been endeavoring to 
resume specie payment. Those of New York had 
taken steps in that direction but little more than 
three months after the suspension. Their weaker 
Western neighbors, however, were not yet in con- 
dition to follow suit ; and the great bank at Phila- 
delphia also at first refused to come in with them. 
But the New York banks persisted in their pur- 
pose, resumed payment a year after they had sus- 
pended, and eventually the others had to fall into 
line ; the reluctance to do so being of course at- 
tributed by Benton to "the factious and wicked 
machinations" of a "powerful combined political 
and moneyed confederation" — a shadowy and 
spectral creation of vivid Jacksonian imaginations, 
in the existence of which he persisted in believing. 

Clay, always active as the friend of the banks, 
introduced a resolution, nominally to quicken the 
approach of resumption, but really to help out pre- 
cisely those weak banks which did not deserve 
help, making the notes of the resuming banks 
receivable in payment of all dues to the federal 
government. This was offered after the banks of 
New York had resumed, and when all the other 
solvent banks were on the point of resuming also ; 

192 Thomas Hart Benton 

so its nominal purpose was already accomplished, 
as Benton, in a caustic speech, pointed out. He 
then tore the resolution to shreds, showing that it 
would be of especial benefit to the insolvent and 
imsound banks, and would insure a repetition of 
the worst evils imder which the country was 
already suffering. He made it clear that the 
proposition practically was to force the govern- 
ment to receive paper promises to pay from banks 
that were certain to fail, and therefore to force 
the government in turn to pay out this worthless 
paper to its honest creditors. Benton's speech 
was an excellent one, and Clay's resolution was 

All through this bank controversy, and the 
other controversies relating to it, Benton took the 
leading part, as mouthpiece of the administration. 
He heartily supported the suggestion of the Presi- 
dent, that a stringent bankrupt law against the 
banks should be passed. Webster stood out as 
the principal opponent of this measure, basing his 
objections mainly upon constitutional grounds; 
that is, questioning the right, rather than the 
expediency, of the proposed remedy. Benton 
answered him at length in a speech showing an 
immense amount of careful and painstaking study 
and a wide range of historical reading and legal 
knowledge ; he replied point by point, and more 
than held his own with his great antagonist. His 

Teeth are Set on Edge 193 

speech was an exhaustive study of the history and 
scope of bankruptcy laws against corporations. 
Benton's capacity for w^ork was at all times im- 
mense ; he delighted in it for its own sake, and 
took a most justifiable pride in his wide reading, 
and especially in his full acquaintance with his- 
tory, both ancient and modem. He was very 
fond of illustrating his speeches on American 
affairs with continual allusions and references to 
events in foreign coimtries or in old times which 
he considered to be more or less parallel to those 
he was discussing ; and indeed he often dragged in 
these comparisons when there was no particular 
need for such a display of his knowledge. He 
could fairly be called a learned man, for he had 
studied very many subjects deeply and thor- 
oughly; and though he was too self-conscious 
and pompous in his utterances not to incur more 
than the suspicion of pedantry, yet the fact 
remains that hardly any other man has ever sat 
in the Senate whose range of information was as 
wide as his. 

He made another powerful and carefully 
wrought speech in favor of what he called the 
act to provide for the divorce of bank and state. 
This bill, as finally drawn, consisted of two dis- 
tinct parts, one portion making provision for the 
keeping of the public moneys in an independent 
treasury, and the other for the hard money 

194 Thomas Hart Benton 

currency, which was all that the government was 
to accept in payment of revenue dues. This last 
provision, however, was struck out, and the bill 
thereby lost the support of Calhoun, who, with 
Webster, Clay, and the other Whigs, voted against 
it; but, mainly through Benton's efforts, it passed 
the Senate, although by a very slender majority. 
Benton, in his speech, dwelt with especial admira- 
tion on the working of the monetary system of 
France, and held it up as well worthy to be copied 
by us. Most of the points he made were certainly 
good ones, although he overestimated the benefi- 
cent results that would spring from the adoption 
of the proposed system, believing that it would 
put an end for the future to all panics and com- 
mercial convulsions. In reality it would have 
removed only one of the many causes which go to 
produce the latter, leaving the others free to work 
as before; the people at large, not the govern- 
ment, were mainly to blame, and even wath them 
it was in some respects their misfortune as much as 
their fault. Benton's error, however, was natural ; 
like most other men he was imable fully to realize 
that hardly any phenomenon, even the most sim- 
ple, can be said to spring from one cause only, and 
not from a complex and interwoven tissue of causa- 
tion — and a panic is one of the least simple and 
most complex of mercantile phenomena. Ben- 
ton's deep-rooted distrust of and hostility to such 

Teeth are Set on Edge 195 

banking as then existed in the United States cer- 
tainly had good grounds for existence. 

This distrust was shown again when the bill for 
the recharter of the district banks came up. The 
specie basis of many of them had been allowed to 
become altogether too low; and Benton showed 
himself more keenly alive than any other public 
man to the danger of such a state of things, and 
argued strongly that a basis of specie amounting 
to one-third the total of liabilities was the only 
safe proportion, and should be enforced by law. 
He made a most forcible argtmient, using numer- 
ous and apt illustrations to show the need of his 

Nor was the tireless Missouri senator satisfied 
even yet; for he introduced a resolution asking 
leave to bring in a bill to tax the circulation of 
banks and bankers, and of all corporations, com- 
panies, or individuals, issuing paper currency. 
One object of the bill was to raise revenue ; but 
even more he aimed at the regulation of the cur- 
rency by the suppression of small notes; and for 
this end the tax was proposed to be made heaviest 
on notes imder twenty dollars, and to be annually 
augmented until it had accomplished its object 
and they had been driven out of circulation. In 
advocating his measure he used, as was per- 
haps unavoidable, some arguments that savored 
strongly of demagogy ; but on the whole he made 

196 Thomas Hart Benton 

a strong appeal, using as precedents for the law- 
he wished to see enacted both the then existing 
banking laws in England and those that had ob- 
tained previously in the history of the United 

Taken altogether, while the Jacksonians, dur- 
ing the period of Van Buren's presidency, rightly 
suffered for their previous financial misdeeds, yet 
so far as their actions at the time were concerned, 
they showed to greater advantage than the Whigs. 
Nor did they waver in their purpose even when 
the tide of popular feeling changed. The great 
financial measure of the administration, in which 
Benton was most interested, the independent 
treasury bill, he succeeded in getting through 
the Senate twice ; the first time it w-as lost in the 
House of Representatives; but on the second 
occasion, toward the close of Van Buren's term, 
firmness and perseverance met their reward. The 
bill passed the Senate by an increased majority, 
scraped through the House after a bitter contest, 
and became a law^ It developed the system 
known as that of the Sub-Treasury, which has 
proved satisfactory to the present day. 

It was during Van Buren's term that Biddle's 
great bank, so long the pivot on which turned the 
fortunes of political parties, finally tottered to its 
fall. It was ruined by unwise and reckless man- 
agement; and Benton sang a pasan over its 

Teeth are Set on Edge 197 

downfall, exulting in its fate as a justification of 
all that he had said and done. Yet there can be 
little doubt that its mismanagement became gross 
only after all connection with the national govern- 
ment had ceased; and its end, attributable to 
causes not originally existent or likely to exist, can 
hardly be rightly considered in passing judgment 
upon the actions of the Jacksonians in reference 
to it. 



THE difficulty and duration of a war with an 
Indian tribe depend less upon the numbers 
of the tribe itself than upon the nature of 
the ground it inhabits. The two Indian tribes 
that have caused the most irritating and pro- 
longed struggle are the Apaches, who live in the 
vast, waterless mountainous deserts of Arizona 
and New Mexico, and whom we are at this present 
moment engaged in subduing, and the Seminoles, 
who, from among the impenetrable swamps of 
Florida, bade the whole United States army 
defiance for seven long years; and this although 
neither Seminoles nor Apaches ever brought much 
force into the field, nor inflicted such defeats upon 
us as have other Indian tribes, like the Creeks and 

The conflict with the Seminoles was one of the 
legacies left by Jackson to Van Buren; it lasted 
as long as the Revolutionary War, cost thirty mil- 
lions of dollars, and baffled the efforts of several 
generals and numerous troops, who had previ- 
ously shown themselves equal to any in the world. 
The expense, length, and ill-success of the strug- 
gle, and a strong feeling that the Seminoles had 


Last of Jacksonian Democracy 199 

been wronged, made it a great handle for attack 
on the administration ; and the defense was taken 
up by Benton, who always accepted completely 
the Western estimate of any form of the Indian 

As is usually the case in Indian wars, there had 
been much wrong done by each side ; but in this 
instance we were the more to blame, although the 
Indians themselves were far from being merely 
harmless and suffering innocents. The Seminoles 
were being deprived of their lands in pursuance of 
the general policy of removing all the Indians 
west of the Mississippi. They had agreed to go, 
under pressure, and influenced, probably, by 
fraudulent representations; but they declined to 
fulfil their agreement. If they had been treated 
wisely and firmly they might probably have been 
allowed to remain without serious injury to the 
surrounding whites. But no such treatment was 
attempted, and as a result we were plunged in 
one of the most harassing Indian wars we ever 
waged. In their gloomy, tangled swamps, and 
among the imknown and untrodden recesses of 
the everglades the Indians found a secure asylum ; 
and they issued from their haunts to bum and 
ravage almost all the settled parts of Florida, 
fairly depopulating five counties; while the sol- 
diers could rarely overtake them, and when they 
did, were placed at such a disadvantage that the 

2CX) Thomas Hart Benton 

Indians repulsed or cut off detachment after de- 
tachment, generally making a merciless and com- 
plete slaughter of each. The great Seminole 
leader, Osceola, was captured only by deliberate 
treachery and breach of faith on our part, and the 
Indians were worn out rather than conquered. 
This was partly owing to their remarkable capaci- 
ties as bush-fighters, but infinitely more to the 
nature of their territory. 

Our troops generally fought with great bravery ; 
but there is very little else in the struggle, either 
as regards its origin or the manner in which it was 
carried on, to which an American can look back 
with any satisfaction. We usually group all our 
Indian wars together, in speaking of their justice 
or injustice ; and thereby show flagrant ignorance. 
The Sioux and Cheyennes, for instance, have more 
often been sinning than sinned against ; for exam- 
ple, the so-called Chivington or Sandy Creek Mas- 
sacre, in spite of certain most objectionable details, 
was on the whole as righteous and beneficial a deed 
as ever took place on the frontier. On the other 
hand, the most cruel wrongs have been perpe- 
trated by whites upon perfectly peaceable and 
tmoffending tribes like those of California, or the 
Nez Perces. Yet the emasculated professional 
humanitarians mourn as much over one set of 
Indians as over the other — and indeed, on all 
points connected with Indian management, are 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 201 

as untrustworthy and unsafe leaders as would be 
an equal number of the most brutal white border- 
ers. But the Seminole War was one of those 
where the Eastern or humanitarian view was more 
nearly correct than was any other ; although even 
here the case was far from being entirely onesided. 
Benton made an elaborate but not always can- 
did defense of the administration, both as to the 
origin and as to the prosecution of the war. He 
attempted to show that the Seminoles had agreed 
to go West, had broken their treaty without any 
reason, had perpetrated causeless massacres, had 
followed up their successes with merciless butch- 
eries, which last statement was true; and that 
Osceola had forfeited all claim or right to have a 
flag of truce protect him. There was a certain 
justice in his position even on these questions, and 
when he came to defend the conduct of our soldiers 
he had the right entirely with him. They were 
led by the same commander, and belonged to the 
same regiments, that in Canada had shown them- 
selves equal to the famous British infantry ; they 
had to contend with the country, rather than with 
their enemies, as the sweltering heat, the stagnant 
lagoons, the quaking morasses, and the dense for- 
ests of Florida made it almost impossible for an 
army to carry on a successful campaign. More- 
over, the Seminoles were well armed; and many 
tribes of North American Indians show them- 

202 Thomas Hart Benton 

selves, when with good weapons and on their own 
groiind, more dangerous antagonists than would 
be an equal number of the best European troops. 
Indeed, imder such conditions they can only be 
contended with on equal terms if the opposing 
white force is made up of frontiersmen who are as 
good woodsmen and riflemen as themselves, and 
who, moreover, have been drilled by some man 
like Jackson, who knows how to handle them to 
the best advantage, both in disciplining their 
lawless courage and in forcing them to act under 
orders and together, — the lack of which discipline 
and power of supporting each other has often 
rendered an assemblage of formidable individual 
border-fighters a mere disorderly mob when 
brought into the field. 

The war dragged on tediously. The troops — 
regulars, volunteers, and militia alike — fought 
the Indians again and again ; there were pitched 
battles, surprises, ambuscades, and assaults on 
places of imknown strength ; hundreds of soldiers 
were slain in battle or by treachery ; hundreds of 
settlers were slaughtered in their homes, or as 
they fled from them; the bloody Indian forays 
reached even to the outskirts of Tallahatchee and 
to within sight of the walls of quaint old St. 
Augustine. Little by little, however, the power of 
the Seminoles was broken ; their war bands were 
scattered and driven from the field, hundreds 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 203 

of their number were slain in fight, and five 
times as many surrendered and were taken west 
of the ]\Iississippi. The white troops marched 
through Florida down to and into the everglades, 
and crossed it backward and for^vard, from the 
Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean ; they hunted 
their foes from morass to morass and from hum- 
mock to hummock; they mapped out the whole 
hitherto unknown coimtry; they established 
numerous posts; opened hundreds of miles of 
wagon road ; and built very many causeways and 
bridges. But they could not end the war. The 
bands of Indians broke up and entirely ceased to 
offer resistance to bodies of armed whites ; but as 
individuals they continued as dangerous to the 
settlers as ever, prowling out at night like wild 
beasts from their fastnesses in the dark and fetid 
swamps, murdering, burning, and ravaging in all 
the outlying settlements, and destroying every 
lonely farmhouse or homestead. 

There was but one way in which the war could 
be finally ended, and that was to have the terri- 
tory occupied by armed settlers ; in other words, 
to have it won and held exactly as almost all the 
land of the United States has been in the begin- 
ning. Benton introduced a bill to bring this about, 
giving to every such settler a good inheritance 
in the soil as a reward for his enterprise, toil, and 
danger; and the war was finished only by the 

204 Thomas Hart Benton 

adoption of this method. He supported his bill 
in a very effective speech, showing that the pro- 
posed way was the only one by which a permanent 
conquest could be effected ; he himself had, when 
young, seen it put into execution in Tennessee and 
Kentucky, where the armed settlers, with their 
homesteads in the soil, formed the vanguard of 
the white advance ; where the rifle-bearing back- 
woodsmen went forth to fight and to cultivate, 
living in assemblages of blockhouses at first and 
separating into individual settlements afterward. 
The work had to be done with axe, spade, and rifle 
aHke. Benton rightly insisted that there was no 
longer need of a large army in Florida : 

Why, the men who are there now can find nobody 
to fight! It is two years since a fight has been had. 
Ten men who will avoid surprises and ambuscades can 
now go from one end of Florida to the other. As war- 
riors, these Indians no longer appear; it is only as 
assassins, as robbers, as incendiaries, that they lurk 
about. What is now wanted is not an army to fight, 
but settlers and cultivators to take possession and 
keep possession ; and the armed cultivator is the man 
for that. The blockhouse is the first house to be 
built in an Indian country; the stockade the first 
fence to be put up. Within that blockhouse, or 
within a hollow square of blockhouses, two miles long 
on each side, two hundred yards apart, and enclosing 
a good field, safe habitations are to be found for fami- 
lies. Cultivation and defense then go hand in hand. 
The heart of the Indian sickens when he hears the 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 205 

crowing of the cock, the barking of the dog, the sound 
of the axe, and the crack of the rifle. These are the 
true evidences of the dominion of the white man; 
these are the proofs that the owner has come and 
means to stay, and then the Indians feel it to be time 
for them to go. While soldiers alone are in the coun- 
try they feel their presence to be temporary ; that they 
are mere sojourners in the land, and sooner or later 
must go away. It is the settler alone, the armed set- 
tler, whose presence announces the dominion, the 
permanent dominion, of the white man. 

Benton's ideas were right, and were acted upon. 
It is impossible even to subdue an Indian tribe by 
the army alone ; the latter can only pave the way 
for and partially protect the armed settlers who 
are to hold the soil. 

Benton continued to take a great interest in the 
disposal of the public lands, as was natural in a 
senator from the West, where the bulk of these 
lands lay. He was always a great advocate of a 
homestead law. During Van Buren's administra- 
tion, he succeeded in getting two or three bills 
on the subject through the Senate. One of these 
allowed lands that had been five years in the mar- 
ket to be reduced in price to a dollar an acre, and 
if they stood five years longer to go down to 
seventy-five cents. The bill was greatly to the 
interest of the Western farmer in the newer, 
although not necessarily the newest, parts of the 
country. The man who went on the newest land 

2o6 Thomas Hart Benton 

was in turn provided for by the preemption bill, 
which secured the privilege of first purchase to 
the actual settler on any lands to which the Indian 
title had been extinguished ; to be paid for at the 
minimum price of public lands at the time. An 
effort was made to confine the benefits of this pro- 
posed law to citizens of the United States, exclud- 
ing tmnaturalized foreigners from its action. 
Benton, as representing the new States, who 
desired immigrants of every kind, whether foreign 
or native, successfully opposed this. He pointed 
out that there was no question of conferring politi- 
cal rights, which involved the management of the 
government, and which should not be conferred 
until the foreigner had become a naturalized citi- 
zen ; it was merely a question of allowing the alien a 
right to maintain himself and to support his family. 
He especially opposed the amendment on account 
of the class of foreigners it would affect. Aliens 
who wished to take up public lands were not 
paupers or criminals, and did not belong to the 
shiftless and squalid foreign mob that drifted into 
the great cities of the seaboard and the interior; 
but on the contrary were among our most enter- 
prising, hardy, and thrifty citizens, who had 
struck out for themselves into the remote parts 
of the new States and had there begun to bring 
the wilderness into subjection. Such men de- 
served to be encouraged in every way, and should 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 207 

receive from the preemption laws the same benefits 
that would inure to native-bom citizens. The 
third bill introduced, which passed the Senate but 
failed in the House, was one to permit the public 
lands sold to be immediately taxed by the States 
in which they lay. Originally these lands had 
been sold upon credit, the total amount not being 
paid, nor the title passed, until five years after the 
sale ; and during this time it would have been 
unjust to tax them, as failure in paying the instal- 
ments to the government would have let the lands 
revert to the latter; but when the cash system 
was substituted for credit Benton believed that 
there was no longer reason why the new lands 
should not bear their share of the state burdens. 

During Van Buren's administration the stand- 
ard of public honesty, which had been lowering 
with frightful rapidity ever since, with Adams, 
the men of high moral tone had gone out of power, 
went almost as far down as it could go ; although 
things certainly did not change for the better 
under Tyler and Polk. Not only was there the 
most impudent and unblushing rascality among 
the public servants of the nation, but the people 
themselves, through their representatives in the 
state legislatures, went to work to swindle their 
honest creditors. ]\Iany States, in the rage for 
public improvements, had contracted debts which 
they now refused to pay ; in many cases they were 

2o8 Thomas Hart Benton 

unable, or at least so professed themselves, even 
to pay the annual interest. The debts of the 
States were largely held abroad; they had been 
converted into stock and held in shares, which had 
gone into a great number of hands, and now, of 
course, became greatly depreciated in value. It 
is a painful and shameful page in our history ; and 
every man connected with the repudiation of the 
States' debts ought, if remembered at all, to be 
remembered with scorn and contempt. However, 
time has gradually shrouded from our sight both 
the names of the leaders in the repudiation and 
the names of the victims whom they swindled. 
Two alone, one in each class, will always be kept 
in mind. Before Jefferson Davis took his place 
among the arch-traitors in our annals he had 
already long been known as one of the chief re- 
pudiators; it was not unnatural that to dishon- 
esty toward the creditors of the public he should 
afterw^ard add treachery toward the public itself. 
The one most prominent victim was described by 
Benton himself: "The Rev. Sydney Smith, of 
witty memory, but amiable withal, was accus- 
tomed to lose all his amiability, but no part of his 
wit, when he spoke of his Pennsylvania bonds — 
which, in fact, was very often." 

Many of the bondholders, however, did not 
manifest their grief by caustic wit, but looked to 
more substantial relief; and did their best to 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 209 

bring about the assumption of the state debts, 
in some form, whether open or disguised, by 
the federal government. The British capitaUsts 
united with many American capitahsts to work 
for some such action; and there were plenty of 
people in the States willing enough to see it done. 
Of course it would have been criminal folly on the 
part of the federal government to take any such 
step; and Benton determined to meet and check 
the effort at the very beginning. The London 
Bankers' Circular had contained a proposition 
recommending that the Congress of the United 
States should guarantee, or otherwise provide for, 
the ultimate payment of the debts which the 
States had contracted for state or local purposes. 
Benton introduced a series of resolutions declaring 
utter opposition to the proposal, both on the 
ground of expediency and on that of constitution- 
ality. The resolutions were perfectly proper in 
their purpose, but were disfigured by that cheap 
species of demagogy which consists in denouncing 
purely supposititious foreign interference, com- 
plicated by an allusion to Benton's especial pet 
terror, the inevitable money power. As he put it : 
"Foreign interference and influence are far more 
dangerous in the invidious intervention of the 
moneyed power than in the forcible invasions of 
fleets and armies." 

An attempt was made directly to reverse the 

2IO Thomas Hart Bentoa 

effect of the resolutions by amending them so as 
to provide that the pubHc land revenue should be 
divided among the States, to help them in the 
payment of these debts. Both Webster and Clay 
supported this amendment, but it was fortunately 
beaten by a large vote. 

Benton's speech, like the resolutions in support 
of which he spoke, was right in its purpose, but 
contained much matter that was beside the mark. 
He had worked himself into such a condition over 
the supposititious intrigues of the "money power" 
— an attack on which is almost always sure to 
be popular — that he was very certain to discover 
evidence of their existence on all, even the most 
unlikely, occasions ; and it is difficult to think that 
he was not himself aware how overdra\\Ti was his 
prophecy of a probable interference of foreign 
powers in our affairs, if the resolutions he had 
presented were not adopted. 

The tariff had once more begtm to give trouble, 
and the South was again complaining of its work- 
ings, aware that she was falling always more to 
the rear in the race for prosperity, and blindly 
attributing her failure to everything but the true 
reason, — the existence of slavery. Even Benton 
himself showed a curiously pathetic eagerness to 
prove both to others and himself that the cause of 
the increasing disparity in growth, and incompati- 
bility in interest between the two sections, must 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 211 

be due to some temporary and artificial cause, and 
endeavored to hide from all eyes, even from his 
own, the fact that the existence of slavery was 
working, slowly but surely, and with steadily in- 
creasing rapidity, to rend in simder the Union 
which he loved and served with such heartfelt 
devotion. He tried to prove that the main cause 
of discontent was to be found in the tariff and 
other laws, which favored the North at the ex- 
pense of the South. At the same time he entered 
an eloquent plea for a warmer feeling between the 
sections, and pointed out the absolute hopeless- 
ness of attempting to better the situation in any 
way by disunion. The great Missourian could 
look back with fond pride and regret to the con- 
dition of the South as it was during and immedi- 
ately after the colonial days, when it was the seat 
of wealth, power, high living, and free-handed 
hospitality, and was filled to overflowing with the 
abounding life of its eager and turbulent sons. 
The change for the worse in its relative condition 
was real and great. He reproved his fellow 
Southerners for attributing this change to a single 
cause, — the imequal working of the federal gov- 
ernment, "which gave all the benefits of the 
Union to the South and all its burdens to the 
North;" he claimed that it was due to many 
other causes as well. Yet those whom he re- 
buked were as near right as he was ; for the change 

212 Thomas Hart Benton 

was due in the main to only one cause — but that 
cause was slavery. It is almost pitiful to see the 
strong, stem, self-reliant statesman refusing, with 
nervous and passionate wilfulness, to look the 
danger in the face, and, instead thereof, trying to 
persuade himself into the belief that "the remedy 
lies in the right working of the Constitution; in 
the cessation of unequal legislation ; in the reduc- 
tion of the inordinate expenses of the government ; 
in its return to the simple, limited, and economical 
machine it was intended to be ; and in the revival 
of fraternal feelings and respect for each other's 
rights and just complaints." Like many another 
man he thought, or tried to think, that by sweep- 
ing the dust from the door-sill he could somehow 
stave off the whirling rush of the sand-storm. 

The compromise tariff of 1833 had abolished all 
specific duties, establishing ad valorem ones in 
their place ; and the result had been great uncer- 
tainty and injustice in its working. Now whether 
a protective tariff is right or wrong may be open to 
question ; but if it exists at all, it should work as 
simply and with as much certainty and exactitude 
as possible ; if its interpretation varies, or if it is 
continually meddled with by Congress, great dam- 
age ensues. It is in reality of far less importance 
that a law should be ideally right than that it 
should be certain and steady in its workings. 
Even supposing that a high tariff is all wrong, it 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 213 

would work infinitely better for the country than 
would a series of changes between high and low 
duties. Benton strongly advocated a return to 
specific duties, as being simpler, surer, and better 
on every account. In commenting on the ad 
valorem duties, he showed how they had been 
adopted blindly and without discussion by the 
frightened, silent multitude of congressmen and 
senators, who jumped at Clay's compromise bill 
in 1833 as giving them a loophole of escape from a 
situation where they would have had to face evil 
consequences, no matter what stand they took. 
Benton's comment on men of this stamp deserves 
chronicling, from its justice and biting severity: 
" It (the compromise act) was passed by the aid of 
the votes of those — always a considerable per 
centum in every public body — to whom the name 
of compromise is an irresistible attraction ; ami- 
able men, who would do no wrong of themselves, 
and without whom the designing could also do 
but little wrong." 

He not only devoted himself to the general sub- 
ject of the tariff in relation to specific duties, but 
he also took up several prominent abuses. One 
subject, on which he was never tired of harping 
with monotonous persistency, was the duty on 
salt. The idea of making salt free had become 
one which he was almost as fond of bringing into 
every discussion, no matter how inappropriate to 

214 Thomas Hart Benton 

the matter in hand, as he was of making irrelevant 
and abusive allusions to his much-enduring and 
long-suffering hobby, the iniquitous "money- 
power." Benton had all the tenacity of a snap- 
ping turtle, and was as firm a believer in the policy 
of "continuous hammering" as Grant himself. 
His tenacity and his pertinacious refusal to aban- 
don any contest, no matter what the odds were 
against him, and no matter how often he had to 
return to the charge, formed two of his most in- 
valuable qualities, and when called into play on 
behalf of such an object as the preservation of the 
Union, cannot receive too high praise at our hands ; 
for they did the country services so great and last- 
ing that they should never be forgotten. It would 
have been fortunate indeed if Clay and Webster 
had possessed the fearless, aggressive courage and 
iron will of the rugged Missourian, who was so 
often pitted against them in the political arena. 
But when Benton's attention was firmly fixed on 
the accomplishment of something comparatively 
trivial, his dogged, stubborn, and imyielding 
earnestness drew him into making efforts of which' 
the disproportion to the result aimed at was rather 
droll. Nothing could thwart him or turn him 
aside; and though slow to take up an idea, yet, 
if it was once in his head, to drive it out was a sim- 
ply hopeless task. These qualities were of such 
invaluable use to the State on so many great 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 215 

occasions that we can well afford to treat them 
merely with a good-humored laugh, when we see 
them exercised on behalf of such a piece of fool- 
ishness as, for example, the expunging resolution. 
The repeal of the salt tax, then, was a particular 
favorite in Benton's rather numerous stable of 
hobbies, because it gave free scope for the use of 
sentimental as well as of economic arguments. 
He had the right of the question, and was not in 
the least daunted by his numerous rebuffs and the 
unvarying ill success of his efforts. Speaking in 
1840, he stated that he had been urging the repeal 
for twelve years ; and for the purpose of furnishing 
data with which to compare such a period of time, 
and without the least suspicion that there was any- 
thing out of the way in the comparison, he added, 
in a solemn parenthesis, that this was two years 
longer than the siege of Troy lasted. In the same 
speech was a still choicer morsel of eloquence 
about salt: "The Supreme Ruler of the Universe 
has done everything to supply His creatures w4th 
it; man, the fleeting shadow of an instant, in- 
vested with his little brief authority, has done 
much to deprive them of it," After which he 
went on to show a really extensive acquaintance 
with the history of salt taxes and monopolies, and 
with the uses and physical structure and surroimd- 
ings of the mineral itself — all which might have 
taught his hearers that a man may combine much 

2i6 Thomas Hart Benton 

erudition with a total lack of the sense of hiimor. 
The salt tax is dragged, neck and heels, into many 
of Benton's speeches much as Cooper manages, on 
all possible occasions, throughout his novels, to 
show the imlikeness of the Bay of Naples to the 
Bay of New York — not the only point of resem- 
blance, by the way, between the characters of the 
Missouri statesman and the New York novelist. 
Whether the subject under discussion was the tax- 
ation of bank-notes, or the abolition of slavery, 
made very little difference to Benton as to intro- 
ducing an allusion to the salt monopoly. One of 
his happy arguments in favor of the repeal, which 
was addressed to an exceedingly practical and 
commonplace Congress, was that the early Chris- 
tian disciples had been known as the salt of the 
earth — a biblical metaphor, which Benton kindly 
assured his hearers was very expressive ; and 
added that a salt tax was morally as well as politi- 
cally wrong, and in fact "was a species of im- 

But in attacking some of the abuses which had 
developed out of the tariff of 1833 Benton made 
a very shrewd and practical speech, without per- 
mitting himself to indulge in any such intellec- 
tual pranks as accompanied his salt orations. He 
especially aimed at reducing the drawbacks on 
sugar, molasses, and one or two other articles. 
In accordance with our whole clumsy, haphazard 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 217 

system of dealing with the tariff we had originally 
put very high duties on the articles in question, 
and then had allowed correspondingly heavy 
drawbacks; and yet, when in 1833, by Clay's 
famous compromise tariff bill, the duties were 
reduced to a fractional part of what they had pre- 
viously been, no parallel reduction was made in the 
drawbacks, although Benton (supported by Web- 
ster) made a vain effort even then, while the com- 
promise bill was on its passage, to have the injustice 
remedied. As a consequence, the exporters of 
sugar and rum, instead of drawing back the exact 
amounts paid into the treasury, drew back several 
times as much ; and the ridiculous result was that 
certain exporters were paid a naked bounty out of 
the treasury, and received pay for doing and suf- 
fering nothing. In 1 839 the drawback paid on the 
exportation of refined sugar exceeded the amount 
of revenue derived from imported sugar by over 
twenty thousand dollars. Benton showed this 
clearly, by unimpeachable statistics, and went on 
to prove that in that year the whole amount of the 
revenue from brown and clayed sugar, plus the 
above-mentioned twenty thousand dollars, was 
paid over to twenty-nine sugar refiners ; and that 
these men thus "drew back" from the treasury 
what they had never put into it. Abuses equally 
gross existed in relation to various other articles. 
But in spite of the clear justice of his case, Benton 

2i8 Thomas Hart Benton 

was able at first to make but little impression on 
Congress; and it was some time before matters 
were straightened out, as all the protective in- 
terests felt obliged to make common cause with 
each other, no matter what evils might be perpe- 
trated by their taking such action. 

Toward the close of Van Buren's administra- 
tion, when he was being assailed on every side, as 
well for what Jackson as for what he himself had 
done or left undone, one of the chief accusations 
brought against him was that he had squandered 
the public money, and that, since Adams had been 
ousted from the presidency, the expenses of run- 
ning the government had increased out of all pro- 
portion to what was proper. There was good 
ground for their complaint, as the waste and pecu- 
lation in some of the departments had been very 
great ; but Benton, in an elaborate defense of both 
Jackson and Van Buren, succeeded in showing 
that at least certain of the accusations were un- 
founded — although he had to stretch a point or 
two in trying to make good his claim that the 
administration was really economical, being re- 
duced to the rather lame expedient of ruling out 
about two-thirds of the expenditures on the 
ground that they were "extraordinary." 

The charge of extravagance was one of the least 
of the charges urged against the Jacksonian Demo- 
crats during the last days of their rule. While 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 219 

they had been in power the character of the public 
service had deteriorated frightfully, both as re- 
garded its efficiency and infinitely more as regarded 
its honesty ; and under Van Buren the amount of 
money stolen by the public officers, compared to 
the amount handed in to the treasury, was greater 
than ever before or since. For this the Jacksoni- 
ans were solely and absolutely responsible; they 
drove out the merit system of making appoint- 
ments, and introduced the "spoils" system in its 
place ; and under the latter they chose a peculiarly 
dishonest and incapable set of officers, whose sole 
recommendation was to be found in the knavish 
trickery and low cimning that enabled them to 
manage the ignorant voters who formed the back- 
bone of Jackson's party. The statesmen of the 
Democracy in after days forgot the good deeds of 
the Jacksonians ; they lost their attachment to the 
Union, and abandoned their championship of hard 
money: but they never ceased to cling to the 
worst legacy their predecessors had left them. 
The engrafting of the "spoils" system on our 
government was, of all the results of Jacksonian 
rule, the one which was most permanent in its 

All these causes — the corruption of the public 
officials, the extravagance of the government, and 
the widespread distress, which might be regarded 
as the aftermath of its ruinous financial policy — 

220 Thomas Hart Benton 

combined with others that were as Httle to the dis- 
credit of the Jacksonians as they were to the credit 
of the Whigs, brought about the overthrow of the 
former. There was much poetic justice in the fact 
that the presidential election which decided their 
fate was conducted on as purely irrational princi- 
ples, and was as merely one of sound and fury, as 
had been the case in the election twelve years pre- 
viously, when they came into power. The Whigs, 
having exhausted their language in denouncing 
their opponents for nominating a man like Andrew 
Jackson, proceeded to look about in their own 
party to find one who should come as near him as 
possible in all the attributes that had given him 
so deep a hold on the people ; and they succeeded 
perfectly when they pitched on the old Indian 
fighter, Harrison. " Tippecanoe " proved quite as 
effective a war-cry in bringing about the dowTifall 
of the Jacksonians as "Old Hickory" had shown 
itself to be a dozen years previously in raising 
them up. General Harrison had already shown 
himself to be a good soldier, and a loyal and hon- 
est public servant, although by no means standing 
in the first rank either as regards war-craft or 
state-craft ; but the mass of his supporters appar- 
ently considered the facts, or supposed facts, that 
he lived in a log-cabin the walls of which were 
decorated with coon-skins, and that he drank hard 
cider from a gourd, as being more important than 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 221 

his capacity as a statesman or his past services to 
the nation. 

The Whigs having thus taken a shaft from the 
Jacksonians' quiver, it was rather amusing to see 
the latter, in their turn, hold up their hands in 
horror at the iniquity of what would now be called 
a "hurrah" canvass; blandly ignoring the fact 
that it was simply a copy of their own successful 
proceedings. Says Benton, with amusing gravity : 
"The class of inducements addressed to the pas- 
sions and imaginations of the people was such as 
history blushes to record," a remark that provokes 
criticism, when it is remembered that Benton had 
been himself a prominent actor on the Jacksonian 
side in the campaigns of '28 and '32, when it was 
exclusively to "the passions and imaginations of 
the people " that all arguments were addressed. 

The Democrats did not long remain out of 
power; and they kept the control of the govern- 
mental policy in their hands pretty steadily until 
the time of the Civil War ; nevertheless it is true 
that with the defeat of Van Buren the Jacksonian 
Democracy, as such, lost forever its grip on the 
direction of national affairs. When, under Polk, 
the Democrats came back, they came under the 
lead of the very men whom the original Jacksoni- 
ans had opposed and kept down. With all their 
faults, Jackson and Benton were strong Union 
men, and imder them their party was a Union 

222 Thomas Hart Benton 

party. Calhoun and South Carolina, and the dis- 
unionists in the other Southern States were their 
bitter foes. But the disunion and extreme slav- 
ery elements within the Democratic ranks were 
increasing rapidly all the time; and they had 
obtained complete and final control when the 
party reappeared as victors after their defeat in 
1840. Until Van Buren's overthrow the national- 
ists had held the upper hand in shaping Demo- 
cratic policy ; but after that event the leadership 
of the party passed completely into the hands of 
the separatists. 

The defeat of Van Buren marks an era in more 
ways than one. During his administration slavery 
played a less prominent part in politics than did 
many other matters ; this was never so again. His 
administration was the last in which this question, 
or the question springing from it, did not overtop 
and dwarf in importance all others. Again, the 
presidential election of 1840 was the last into 
which slavery did not enter as a most important, 
and in fact as the vital and determining factor. 
In the contest between Van Buren and Harrison 
it did not have the least influence upon the result. 
Moreover, Van Buren was the last Democratic 
president who ruled over a Union of States; all 
his successors, up to the time of Lincoln's election, 
merely held sway over a Union of sections. The 
spirit of separation had identified itself with the 

Last of Jacksonian Democracy 223 

maintenance of slavery, and the South was rapidly 
uniting into a compact array of States with inter- 
ests that were hostile to the North on the point 
most vitally affecting the welfare of the whole 

No great question involving the existence of 
slavery was brought before the attention of Con- 
gress during Van Buren's term of office ; nor was 
the matter mooted except in the eternal wrangles 
over receiving the abolitionist petitions. Benton 
kept silent in these discussions, although voting to 
receive the petitions. As he grew older he con- 
tinually grew wiser, and better able to do good 
legislative work on all subjects; but he was not 
yet able to realize that the slavery question was 
one which could not be kept down, and which was 
boimd to force itself into the sphere of national 
politics. He still insisted that it was only dragged 
before Congress by a few fanatics at the North, 
and that in the South it was made the instrument 
by which designing and unscrupulous men washed 
to break up the federal republic. His devotion to 
the Union, ever with him the chief and overmas- 
tering thought, made him regard with horror and 
aversion any man, at the North or at the South, 
who brought forward a question so fraught with 
peril to its continuance. He kept trying to delude 
himself into the belief that the discussion and the 
danger would alike gradually die away, and the 

224 Thomas Hart Benton 

former state of peaceful harmony between the sec- 
tions, and freedom from disunion excitement, 
would return. 

But the time for such an ending already lay 
in the past; thereafter the outlook was to grow 
steadily darker year by year. Slavery lowered 
like a thimderstorm on the horizon; and though 
sometimes it might seem for a moment to break 
away, yet in reality it had reached that stage 
when, until the final all-engulfing outburst took 
place, the clouds were bound for evermore to 
return after the rain. 



THE Whigs in 1S40 completely overthrew the 
Democrats, and for the first time elected a 
president and held the majority in both 
houses of Congress. Yet, as it turned out, all that 
they really accomplished was to elect a president 
without a party, for Harrison died when he had 
hardly more than sat in the presidential chair, and 
was succeeded by the Vice-President, Tyler of Vir- 

Harrison was a true Whig ; he was, when nomi- 
nated, a prominent member of the Whig party, 
although of course not to be compared with its 
great leader, Henry Clay, or with its most mighty 
intellectual chief and champion in the Northeast, 
Daniel Webster, whose mutual rivalry had done 
much to make his nomination possible. Tyler, 
however, could hardly be called a Whig at all ; on 
the contrary, he belonged rightfully in the ranks 
of those extreme Democrats who were farthest re- 
moved from the Whig standard, and who were as 
much displeased with the Union sentiments of the 
Jacksonians as they were with the personal tyranny 
of Jackson himself. He was properly nothing 
but a dissatisfied Democrat, who hated the Jack- 
sonians, and had been nominated only because the 
15 225 

226 Thomas Hart Benton 

Whig politicians wished to strengthen their ticket 
and insure its election by bidding for the votes of 
the discontented in the ranks of their foes. Now 
a chance stroke of death put the presidency in the 
hands of one who represented this, the smallest, 
element in the coalition that overthrew Van Buren. 

The principles of the Whigs were hazily outlined 
at the best, and the party was never a very credit- 
able organization; indeed, throughout its career 
it could be most easily defined as the opposition 
to the Democracy. It was a free constructionist 
party, believing in giving a liberal interpretation 
to the doctrines of the Constitution ; otherwise, its 
principles were purely economic, as it favored a 
high tariff, internal improvements, a bank, and 
kindred schemes; and its leaders, however they 
might quarrel among themselves, agreed thor- 
oughly in their devout hatred of Jackson and all 
his works. 

It was on this last point only that Tyler came 
in. His principles had originally been ultra- 
Democratic. He had been an extreme strict con- 
structionist, had belonged to that wing of the 
Democracy which inclined more and more toward 
separation, and had thus, on several grounds, 
found himself opposed to Jackson, Benton, 
and their followers. Indeed, he went into op- 
position to his original party for reasons akin 
to those that influenced Calhoun; and Seward's 

The President Without a Party 227 

famous remark about the "ill-starred coalition 
between Whigs and Nullifiers" might with certain 
changes have been applied to the presidential 
election of 1840 quite as well as to the senatorial 
struggles to which it had reference. 

Tyler, however, had little else in common with 
Calhoun, and least of all his intellect. He has 
been called a mediocre man; but this is unwar- 
ranted flattery. He was a politician of monu- 
mental littleness. Owing to the nicely divided 
condition of parties, and to the sheer accident 
which threw him into a position of such promi- 
nence that it allowed him to hold the balance of 
power between them, he was enabled to turn poli- 
tics completely topsy-turvy ; but his chief mental 
and moral attributes were peevishness, fretful 
obstinacy, inconsistency, incapacity to make up 
his own mind, and the ability to quibble indefi- 
nitely over the most microscopic and hair-split- 
ting plays upon words, together with an inordinate 
vanity that so blinded him to all outside feeling 
as to make him really think that he stood a chance 
to be renominated for the presidency. 

The Whigs, especially in the Senate, under 
Henry Clay, prepared at once to push through 
various measures that should undo the work of the 
Jacksonians. Clay was boastfully and domineer- 
ingly sure of the necessity of applying to actual 
governmental work the economic theories that 

228 Thomas Hart Benton 

formed the chief stock in trade of his party. But 
it was precisely on these economic theories that 
Tyler split off from the Whigs. The result was 
that very shortly the real leader of the dominant 
party, backed by almost all his fellow party men 
in both houses of Congress, was at daggers drawn 
with the nominal Whig president, who in his turn 
was supported only by a "corporal's guard" of 
followers in the House of Representatives, by all 
the office-holders whom fear of removal reduced to 
obsequious subserviency, and by a knot of obscure 
politicians who used him for their owm ends, and 
worked alternately on his vanity and on his fears. 
The Democrats, led by Benton, played out their 
own game, and were the only parties to the three- 
cornered fight who came out of it with profit. 
The details now offer rather dry reading, as the 
economic theories of all the contestants were more 
or less crude, the results of the conflict indecisive, 
and the effects upon our history ephemeral. 

Clay began by a heated revival of one of Jack- 
son's worst ideas, namely, that when the people 
elect a president they thereby mark with the seal 
of their approval any and every measure with 
which that favored mortal or his advisers may 
consider themselves identified, and indorse all his 
and their previous actions. He at once declared 
that the people had shown, by the size of Harri- 
son's majority, that they demanded the repeal of 

The President Without a Party 229 

the independent treasury act, and the passage of 
various other laws in accordance with some of his 
own favorite hobbies, two out of three voters, as 
a matter of fact, probably never having given a 
second thought to any of them. Accordingly he 
proceeded to introduce a whole batch of bills, 
which he alleged that it was only yielding due 
respect to the spirit of Democracy to pass forth- 

Benton, however, even outdid Clay in paying 
homage to what he was pleased to call the "demo- 
cratic idea." At this time he speaks of the last 
session of the Twenty-sixth Congress as being 
"barren of measures, and necessarily so, as being 
the last of an administration superseded by the 
popular voice and soon to expire; and therefore 
restricted by a sense of propriety, during the brief 
remainder of its existence, to the details of busi- 
ness and the routine of service." According to this 
theory an interregnum of some sixteen weeks 
would intervene between the terms of service of 
every two presidents. He also speaks of Tyler 
as having, when the legislature of Virginia disap- 
proved of a course he wished to follow, resigned his 
seat "in obedience to the democratic principle," 
which, according to his views, thus completely nul- 
lified the section of the Constitution providing for 
a six years' term of service in the Senate. In 
truth Benton, like most other Jacksonian and 

230 Thomas Hart Benton 

Jeffersonian leaders, became both foolish and 
illogical when he began to talk of the bundle of 
vague abstractions, which he knew collectively as 
the ' ' democratic principle . ' ' Although not so bad 
as many of his school, he had yet gradually worked 
himself up to a belief that it was almost impious to 
pay anything but servile heed to the ' ' will of the 
majority;" and was quite unconscious that to 
surrender one's own manhood and judgment to a 
belief in the divine right of kings was only one 
degree more ignoble, and was not a shadow more 
logical, and but little more defensible, than it was 
blindly to deify a majority — not of the whole peo- 
ple, but merely of a small fraction consisting of 
those who happened to be of a certain sex, to 
have reached a certain age, to belong to a certain 
race, and to fulfil some other conditions. In fact 
there is no natural or divine law in the matter at 
all ; how large a portion of the population should 
be trusted with the control of the government is a 
question of expediency merely. In any purely 
native American community manhood suffrage 
works infinitely better than would any other sys- 
tem of government, and throughout our country 
at large, in spite of the large number of ignorant 
foreign -bom or colored voters, it is probably prefer- 
able as it stands to any modification of it; but 
there is no more " natural right " why a white man 
over twenty-one should vote than there is why a 

The President Without a Party 231 

negro woman under eighteen should not. " Civil 
rights" and "personal freedom" are not terms 
that necessarily imply the right to vote. People 
make mistakes when governing themselves, ex- 
actly as they make mistakes when governing 
others ; all that can be said is, that in the former 
case their self-interest is on the side of good gov- 
ernment, whereas in the latter it always may be, 
and often must be, the reverse ; so that, when any 
people reaches a certain stage of mental develop- 
ment and of capacity to take care of its own con- 
cerns, it is far better that it should itself take the 
reins. The distinctive features of the American 
system are its guarantees of personal independence 
and individual freedom ; that is, as far as possible, 
it guarantees to each man his right to live as he 
chooses and to regulate his own private affairs as 
he wishes, without being interfered with or tyran- 
nized over by an individual, or by an oligarchic 
minority, or by a democratic majority; while, 
when the interests of the whole community are at 
stake, it is found best in the long run to let them 
be managed in accordance with the wishes of the 
majority of those presumably concerned. 

Clay's flourish of tnmipets foreboded trouble 
and disturbance to the Jacksonian camp. At last 
he stood at the head of a party controlling both 
branches of the legislative body, and devoted to 
his behests; and, if a little doubtful about the 

232 Thomas Hart Benton 

President, he still believed he could frighten him 
into doing as he was bid. He had long been in the 
minority, and had seen his foes ride roughshod 
over all he most believed in ; and now he prepared 
to pay them back in their own coin and to leave a 
heavy balance on his side of the reckoning. Nor 
could any Jacksonian have shown himself more 
domineering and influenced by a more insolent 
disregard for the rights of others than Clay did 
in his hour of triumph. On the other side, Ben- 
ton braced himself with dogged determination for 
the struggle ; for he was one of those men who 
fight a losing or winning battle with equal resolu- 

Tyler's first message to Congress read like a 
pretty good Whig document. It did not display 
any especial signs of his former strict construction 
theories, and gave little hope to the Democrats. 
The leader of the latter, indeed, Benton, com- 
mented upon both it and its author with rather 
grandiloquent severity, on account of its latitudi- 
narian bias, and of its recommendation of a bank 
of some sort. However, the ink with which the 
message was written could hardly have been dry 
before the President's mind began to change. He 
himself probably had very little idea what he in- 
tended to do, and so contrived to give the Whigs 
the impression that he would act in accordance 
with their wishes; but the leaven had already 

The President Without a Party 233 

begun working in his mind , and, not having much 
to work on, soon changed it so completely that he 
was willing practically to eat his own words. 

Shortly after Tyler had sent in his message out- 
lining what legislation he deemed proper, he being 
by virtue of his position the nominal and titular 
leader of the Whigs, Clay, who was their real and 
very positive chief, and who was, moreover, deter- 
mined to assert his chieftainship, in his turn laid 
down a programme for his party to follow, intro- 
ducing a series of resolutions declaring it necessary 
to pass a bill to repeal the sub-treasury act, an- 
other to establish a bank, another to distribute the 
proceeds of the public land sales, and one or two 
more, to which was afterward added a bank- 
ruptcy measure. 

The sub-treasury bill was first taken up and 
promptly passed and signed. Benton, of course, 
led the hopeless fight against it, making a long and 
elaborate speech, insisting that the finances were in 
excellent shape as they were, showing the advan- 
tages of hard money, and denoiincing the bill on 
accoimt of the extreme suddenness with which it 
took effect, and because it made no provision for 
any substitute. He also alluded caustically to the 
curious and anomalous bank bill, which was then 
being patched up by the Whig leaders so as to get 
it into some such shape that the President would 
sign it. 

234 Thomas Hart Benton 

The other three important measures, that is, the 
bank, distribution, and bankruptcy bills, were all 
passed nearly together; as Benton pointed out, 
they were got through only by a species of bargain 
and sale, the chief supporters of each agreeing to 
support the other, so as to get their own pet 
measure through. "All must go together or fall 
together. This is the decree out of doors. When 
the sun dips below the horizon a private 
congress is held; the fate of the measures is 
decided; a bundle is tied together; and while 
one goes ahead as a bait, another is held back 
as a rod." 

The bankruptcy bill went through and was 
signed. It was urged by all the large debtor class, 
whose ranks had been filled to overflowing by the 
years of wild speculation and general bank suspen- 
sion and insolvency. These debtors were quite 
numerous enough to constitute an important fac- 
tor in politics, but Benton disregarded them, never- 
theless, and fought the bill as stoutly as he did its 
companions, alleging that it was a gross outrage 
on honesty and on the rights of property, and was 
not a bankrupt law at all, but practically an in- 
solvent law for the abolition of debts at the will of 
the debtor. He pointed out grave and numerous 
defects of detail, and gave an exhaustive abstract 
of bankruptcy legislation in general; the speech 
gave evidence of the tireless industry and wide 

The President Without a Party 235 

range of learning for which Benton was preemi- 
nently distinguished. 

The third bill to be taken up and passed was 
that providing for the distribution of the public 
lands revenue, and thus indirectly for assuming the 
debts of the States. Tyler, in his message, had 
characteristically stated that, though it would be 
wholly unconstitutional for the federal govern- 
ment to assume the debts of the States, yet it 
would be highly proper for it to give the latter 
money wherewith to pay them. Clay had always 
been an enthusiastic advocate of a distribution 
bill ; and accordingly one was now passed and 
signed with the least possible delay. It was an 
absolutely indefensible measure. The treasury 
was empty, and loan and tax bills were pending 
at the very moment, in order to supply money for 
the actual running of the government. As Ben- 
ton pointed out. Congress had been called together 
(a special session having been summoned by Har- 
rison before his death) to raise revenue, and the 
first thing done was to squander it. The distribu- 
tion took place when the treasury reports showed 
a deficit of sixteen millions of dollars. The bill was 
pushed through mainly by the States which had 
repudiated their debts in whole or in part ; and as 
these debts were largely owed abroad, many prom- 
inent foreign banking-houses and individuals took 
an active part in lobbying for the bill. Benton 

236 Thomas Hart Benton 

was emphatically right in his opposition to the 
measure, but he was very wrong in some of the 
grounds he took. Thus he inveighed vigorously 
against the foreign capitalists who had come to 
help push the bill through Congress; but he did 
not have anything to say against the scoundrelly 
dishonesty displayed by certain States toward 
their creditors, which had forced these capitalists 
into the endeavor to protect themselves. He also 
incidentally condemned the original assumption 
by the national government of the debts of the 
States at the time of the formation of the Consti- 
tution, which was an absolute necessity; and his 
constitutional views throughout seemed rather 
strained. But he was right beyond cavil on the 
main point. It was criminal folly to give the 
States the impression that they would be allowed 
to create debts over which Congress could have no 
control, yet which Congress in the end would give 
them the money to pay. To reward a State for 
repudiating a debt by giving her the wherewithal 
to pay it was a direct and unequivocal encourage- 
ment of dishonesty. In every respect the bill was 
wholly improper; and Benton's attitude toward 
it and toward similar schemes was incomparably 
better than the position of Clay, Webster, and the 
other Whigs. 

Both the bankrupt bill and the distribution bill 
were repealed very shortly; the latter before it 

The President Without a Party 237 

had time to take effect. This was an emphatic 
indorsement by the pubHc of Benton's views, and 
a humiliating rebuke to the Whig authors of the 
measures. Indeed, the whole legislation of the 
session was almost absolutely fruitless in its results. 
One feature of the struggle was an attempt by 
Clay, promptly and successfully resisted by Ben- 
ton and Calhoun, to institute the hour limit for 
speeches in the Senate. There was a good deal of 
excuse for Clay's motion. The House could cut 
off debate by the previous question, which the 
Senate could not, and nevertheless had found it 
necessary to establish the hour limit in addition. 
Of course it is highly undesirable that there should 
not be proper freedom of debate in Congress ; but 
it is quite as hurtful to allow a minority to exer- 
cise their privileges improperly. The previous 
question is often abused and used tyrannically; 
but on the whole it is a most invaluable aid to 
legislation. Benton, however, waxed hot and 
wrathful over the proposed change in the Senate 
rules. He, with Calhoun and their followers, had 
been consuming an immense amount of time in 
speech-making against the Whig measures, and in 
offering amendments ; not with any hopes of bet- 
tering the bills, but for outside effect, and to annoy 
their opponents. He gives an amusingly naive 
account of their course of action, and the reasons 
for it, substantially as follows : 

238 Thomas Hart Benton 

The Democratic senators acted upon a system, and 
with a thorough organization and a perfect undet' 
standing. Being a minority, and able to do nothing, 
they became assailants, and attacked incessantly; not 
by formal orations against the whole body of a 
measure, but by sudden, short, and pungent speeches 
directed against the vulnerable parts, and pointed 
by proflEered amendments. Amendments were con- 
tinually offered — a great number being prepared 
every night and placed in suitable hands for use the 
next day — always commendably calculated to expose 
an evil and to present a remedy. Near forty propo- 
sitions of amendment were offered to the first fiscal 
agent bill alone — the yeas and nays were taken upon 
them seven and thirty times. All the other promi- 
nent bills — distribution, bankrupt, fiscal corporation, 
new tariff act, called revenue — were served the same 
way; every proposed amendment made an issue. 
There were but twenty-two of us, but every one was 
a speaker and effective. The Globe newspaper was a 
powerful ally, setting out all we did to the best advan- 
tage in strong editorials, and carrying out our speeches, 
fresh and hot, to the people; and we felt victorious in 
the midst of unbroken defeats. 

It is no wonder that such rank filibustering, 
coupled with the exasperating self-complacency 
of its originators, should have excited in Whig 
bosoms every desperate emotion short of homi- 
cidal mania. 

Clay, to cut off such useless talk, gave notice 
that he would move to have the time for debate for 
each individual restricted ; remarking very truth- 

The President Without a Party 239 

fully that he did not believe the people at large 
would complain of the abridgment of speeches in 
Congress. But the Democratic senators, all rather 
fond of windy orations, fairly foamed at the mouth 
at what they affected to deem such an infringement 
of their liberties; and actually took the inex- 
cusable resolution of bidding defiance to the rule if 
it was adopted, and refusing to obey it, no matter 
what degree of violence their conduct might bring 
about — a resolution that was wholly unpardon- 
able. Benton was selected to voice their views 
upon the matter, which he did in a long and not 
very wise speech; while Calhoun was quite as 
emphatic in his threats of what would happen if 
attempt should be made to enforce the proposed 
rule. Clay was always much bolder in opening a 
campaign than in carrying it through ; and when 
it came to putting his words into deeds, he wholly 
lacked the nerve which would have enabled him to 
contend with two such men as the senators from 
Missouri and South Carolina. Had he possessed a 
temperament like that of either of his opponents, 
he would have gone on and have simply forced 
acquiescence; for any legislative body can cer- 
tainly enforce what rules it may choose to make as 
to the conduct of its own members in addressing it ; 
but his courage failed him, and he withdrew from 
the contest, leaving the victory with the Demo- 

240 Thomas Hart Benton 

When the question of the recharter of the dis- 
trict banks came up, it of course gave Benton 
another chance to attack his favorite foe. He 
offered a very proper amendment, which was voted 
down, to prohibit the banks from issuing a cur- 
rency of small notes, fixing upon twenty dollars as 
being the lowest limit. This he supported in a 
strong speech, wherein he once again argued at 
length in favor of a gold and silver currency, and 
showed the evil effects of small bank-notes, which 
might not be, and often were not, redeemable at 
par. He very properly pointed out that to have 
a sound currency, especially in all the smaller de- 
nominations, was really of greater interest to the 
working-men than to any one else. 

The great measure of the session, however, and 
the one that was intended to be the final crown 
and glory of the Whig triumph, was the bill to 
establish a new national bank. Among the politi- 
cal theories to which Clay clung most closely, only 
the belief in a bank ranked higher in his estima- 
tion than his devotion to a protective tariff. The 
establishment of a national bank seemed to him 
to be the chief object of a Whig success ; and that 
it would work immediate and immense benefit to 
the country was with him an article of faith. With 
both houses of Congress under his control, he at 
once prepared to push his pet measure through, 
impatiently brushing aside all resistance. 

The President Without a Party 241 

But at the very outset difficulty was feared from 
the action of the President. Tyler could not at 
first make up his mind what to do ; or rather, he 
made it up in half a dozen different ways every 
day. His peevishness, vacillation, ambitious van- 
ity, and sheer puzzle -headedness made him incline 
first to the side of his new friends and present 
supporters, the Whigs, and then to that of his 
old Democratic allies, whose views on the bank, as 
on most other questions, he had so often openly 
expressed himself as sharing. But though his 
mind oscillated like a pendulum, yet each time it 
swung farther and farther over to the side of the 
Democracy, and it began to look as if he would 
certainly in the end come to a halt in the camp of 
the enemies of the Whigs; his approach to this 
destination was merely hastened by Clay's over- 
bearing violence and injudicious taunts. 

However, at first Tyler did not dare to come out 
openly against any and all bank laws, but tried to 
search round for some compromise measure ; and 
as he could not invent a compromise in fact, he 
came to the conclusion that one in words would do 
just as well. He said that his conscience would 
not permit him to sign a bill to establish a bank 
that was called a bank, but that he was willing to 
sign a bill establishing such an institution pro- 
vided that it was called something else, though it 

should possess all the properties of a bank. Such 

242 Thomas Hart Benton 

a proposal opened a wide field for the endless quib- 
bling in which his soul delighted. 

The secretary of the treasury, in response to a 
call from the Senate, furnished a plan for a bank, 
having modeled it studiously so as to overcome 
the President's scruples; and a select committee 
of the Senate at once shaped a bill in accordance 
with the plans. Said Benton: "Even the title 
was made ridiculous to please the President, 
though not so much so as he wished. He ob- 
jected to the name of bank either in the title or 
the body of the charter, and proposed to style it 
'Fiscal Institute;' and afterward the 'Fiscal 
Agent,' and finally the ' Fiscal Corporation.' " Such 
preposterous folly on the President's part was 
more than the hot-blooded and overbearing Ken- 
tuckian could stand ; and, in spite of his absorbing 
desire for the success of his measure, and of the 
vital necessity for conciliating Tyler, Clay could 
not bring himself to adopt such a ludicrous title, 
even though he had seen that the charter provided 
that the institution, whatever it might be styled 
in form, should in fact have all the properties of a 
bank. After a while, however, a compromise title 
was agreed on, but only a shadow less imbecile 
than the original one proposed by the President; 
and it was agreed to call the measure the " Fiscal 
Bank" bill. 

The President vetoed it, but stated that he was 

The President Without a Party 243 

ready to approve any similar bill that should be 
free from the objections he named. Clay could 
not resist reading Tyler a lecture on his miscon- 
duct, during the course of a speech in the Senate ; 
but the Whigs generally smothered their resent- 
ment, and set about preparing something which 
the President would sign, and this time concluded 
that they would humor him to the top of his bent, 
even by choosing a title as ridiculous as he wished ; 
so they styled their bill one to establish a " Fiscal 
Corporation." Benton held the title up to well- 
deserved derision, and showed that, though there 
had been quite an elaborate effort to disguise the 
form of the measure, and to make it purport to 
establish a bank that should have the properties of 
a treasury, yet that in reality it was simply a 
revival of the old scheme under another name. 
The Whigs swallowed the sneers of their oppo- 
nents as best they could, and passed their bill. 

The President again interposed his veto. An 
intrigue was going on among a few unimportant 
congressmen and obscure office-holders to form a 
new party with Tyler at its head ; and the latter 
willingly entered into the plan, his mind, which 
was not robust at the best, being completely daz- 
zled by his sudden elevation and his wild hopes 
that he could continue to keep the place which he 
had reached. He had given the Whigs reason to 
expect that he would sign the bill, and had taken 

244 Thomas Hart Benton 

none of his cabinet into his confidence. So, when 
his veto came in, it raised a perfect whirlwind of 
wrath and bitter disappointment. His cabinet all 
resigned, except Webster, who stayed to finish the 
treaty with Great Britain; and the Whigs for- 
mally read him out of the party. The Democrats 
looked on with huge enjoyment, and patted Tyler 
on the back, for they could see that he was bring- 
ing their foes to ruin; but nevertheless they de- 
spised him heartily, and abandoned him wholly 
when he had served their turn. Left without any 
support among the regulars of either side, and his 
own proposed third party turning out a still-bom 
abortion, he simply played out his puny part until 
his term ended, and then dropped noiselessly out 
of sight. It is only the position he filled, and not 
in the least his ability, for either good or bad, in 
filling it, that prevents his name from sinking into 
merciful oblivion. 

There was yet one more brief spasm over the 
bank, however; the President sending in a plan 
for a " Fiscal Agent," to be called a Board of Ex- 
chequer. Congress contemptuously refused to pay 
any attention to the proposition, Benton showing 
its utter imworthiness in an excellent speech, one 
of the best that he made on the whole financial 

Largely owing to the cross purposes at which 
the President and his party were working, the con- 

The President Without a Party 245 

dition of the treasury became very bad. It sought 
to provide for its immediate wants by the issue of 
treasury notes, differing from former notes of the 
kind in that they were made reissuable. Benton 
at once, and very properly, attacked this proceed- 
ing. He had a check drawn for a few days' com- 
pensation as senator, demanded payment in hard 
money, and when he was given treasury notes in- 
stead, made a most emphatic protest in the Senate, 
which was entirely effectual, the practically com- 
pulsory tender of the paper money being forthwith 

It was at this time, also, that bills to subsidize 
steamship lines were first passed, and that the en- 
larging and abuse of the pension system began, 
which in our own day threatens to become a really 
crying evil. Benton opposed both sets of measures ; 
and in regard to the pension matter showed that he 
would not let himself, by any specious plea of ex- 
ceptional suffering or need for charity, be led into 
vicious special legislation, sure in the end to bring 
about the breaking down of some of the most im- 
portant principles of government. 



TWO important controversies with foreign 
powers became prominent during Tyler's 
presidency ; but he had Httle to do with the 
settlement of either, beyond successively placing 
in his cabinet the two great statesmen who dealt 
with them. Webster, while secretary of state, 
brought certain of the negotiations with England 
to a close; and later on, Calhoun, while holding 
the same office, took up Webster's work and also 
grappled with — indeed partly caused— the troubles 
on the Mexican border, and turned them to the 
advantage of the South and slavery. 

Our boundaries were still very ill-defined, ex- 
cept where they were formed by the Gulf and the 
Ocean, the Great Lakes, and the river St. John. 
Even in the Northeast, where huge stretches of 
imbroken forest land separated the inhabited por- 
tions of Canada from those of New England, it was 
not yet decided how much of this wilderness 
belonged to us and how much to the Canadians; 
and in the vast, unsettled regions of the far West 
our claims came into direct conflict with those 
of Mexico and of Great Britain. The ownership of 
these little known and badly mapped regions 


Boundary Troubles 247 

could with great difficulty be decided on grounds 
of absolute and abstract right; the title of each 
contestant to the land was more or less plausible, 
and at the same time more or less defective. The 
matter was sure to be decided in favor of the 
strongest ; and, say what we will about the justice 
and right of the various claims, the honest truth 
is, that the comparative might of the different 
nations, and not the comparative righteousness 
of their several causes, was the determining factor 
in the settlement. Mexico lost her northern prov- 
inces by no law of right, but simply by the law of 
the longest sword — the same law that gave India 
to England. In both instances the result was 
greatly to the benefit of the conquered peoples 
and of every one else ; though there is this wide 
difference between the two cases: that whereas 
the English rule in India, while it may last for 
decades or even for centuries, must eventually 
come to an end and leave little trace of its exist- 
ence; on the other hand our conquests from 
Mexico determined for all time the blood, speech, 
and law of the men who should fill the lands we 

The questions between Great Britain and our- 
selves were compromised by each side accepting 
about half what it claimed, only because neither 
was willing to push the other to extremities. Eng- 
lishmen like Palmerston might hector and ruffle, 

248 Thomas Hart Benton 

and Americans like Benton might swagger and 
bully ; but when it came to be a question of actual 
fighting, each people recognized the power of the 
other, and preferred to follow the more cautious 
and peaceful, not to say timid, lead of such states- 
men as Webster and Lord Melbourne. Had we 
been no stronger than the Sikhs, Oregon and 
Washington would at present be British posses- 
sions; and if Great Britain had been as weak as 
Mexico, she would not now hold a foot of territory 
on the Pacific coast. Either nation might perhaps 
have refused to commit a gross and entirely un- 
provoked and imcalled-for act of aggression; but 
each, under altered conditions, would have readily 
found excuses for showing much less regard for the 
claims of the other than actually was shown. It 
would be imtrue to say that nations have not at 
times proved themselves capable of acting with 
great disinterestedness and generosity toward 
other peoples ; but such conduct is not very com- 
mon at the best, and although it often may be 
desirable, it certainly is not always so. If the 
matter in dispute is of great importance, and if 
there is a doubt as to which side is right, then the 
strongest party to the controversy is pretty sure 
to give itself the benefit of that doubt ; and inter- 
national morality will have to take tremendous 
strides in advance before this ceases to be the case. 
It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of 

Boundary Troubles 249 

the treaties and wars by means of which we finally 
gave definite bounds to our territory beyond the 
^lississippi. Contemporary political writers and 
students, of the lesser sort, are always painfully 
deficient in the sense of historic perspective ; and 
to such the struggles for the possession of the un- 
known and dimly outlined western wastes seemed 
of small consequence compared to similar Euro- 
pean contests for territorial aggrandizement. Yet, 
in reality, when we look at the far-reaching nature 
of the results, the questions as to what kingdom 
should receive the fealty of Holstein or Lorraine, 
of Savoy or the Dobrudscha, seem of absolutely 
trivial importance compared to the infinitely more 
momentous ones as to the future race settlement 
and national ownership of the then lonely and 
unpeopled lands of Texas, California, and Oregon. 
Benton, greatly to the credit of his foresight, 
and largely in consequence of his strong national- 
ist feeling, thoroughly appreciated the importance 
of our geographical extensions. He was the great 
champion of the West and of western development, 
and a furious partisan of every movement in the 
direction of the enlargement of our western bound- 
aries. Many of his expressions, when talking of 
the greatness of our country and of the magnitude 
of the interests which were being decided, not only 
were grandiloquent in manner, but also seem exag- 
gerated and overwrought even as regards matter. 

»5o Thomas Hart Benton 

But when we think of the interests for which he 
contended, as they were to become, and not as they 
at the moment were, the appearance of exaggera- 
tion is lost, and the intense feeUng of his speeches 
no longer seems out of place or disproportionate to 
the importance of the subject with which he dealt. 
Without clearly formulating his opinions, even to 
himself, and while sometimes prone to attribute 
to his coimtry at the moment a greatness she was 
not to possess for two or three generations to 
come, he, nevertheless, had engrained in his very 
marrow and fiber the knowledge that inevitably, 
and beyond all doubt, the coming years were to be 
hers. He knew that, while other nations held the 
past, and shared with his own the present, yet that 
to her belonged the still formless and imshaped 
future . More clearly than almost any other states- 
man he beheld the grandeur of the nation loom up, 
vast and shadowy, through the advancing years. 

He was keenly alive to the need of our having 
free chance to spread toward the northwest; he 
very early grasped the idea that in that direction 
we ought to have room for continental develop- 
ment. In his earliest years, to be sure, when the 
Mississippi seemed a river of the remote western 
border, when nobody, not even the hardiest trap- 
per, had penetrated the boundless and treeless 
plains that stretch to the foothills of the Rockies, 
and when the boldest thinkers had not dared to 

Boundary Troubles 251 

suppose that we could ever hold together as a peo- 
ple, when once scattered over so wide a territory, 
he had stated in a public speech that he considered 
the mountains to be our natural frontier line to the 
west, and the barrier beyond which we ought not 
to pass, and had expressed his trust that on the 
Pacific coast there would grow up a kindred and 
friendly republic. But very soon, as the seem- 
ingly impossible became the actual, he himself 
changed, and ever afterward held that we should 
have, wherever possible, no boimdaries but the 
two oceans. 

Benton's violent and aggressive patriotism un- 
doubtedly led him to assume positions toward 
foreign powers that were very repugnant to the 
quiet, peaceable, and order-loving portion of the 
community, especially when he gave vent to the 
spirit of jealous antagonism which he felt toward 
Great Britain, the power that held sway over the 
wilderness bordering us on the north. Yet the 
arrogant attitude he assumed was more than justi- 
fied by the destiny of the great republic; and it 
would have been well for all America if we had in- 
sisted even more than we did upon the extension 
northward of our boimdaries. Not only the 
Columbia but also the Red River of the North — 
and the Saskatchewan and Frazer as well — should 
lie wholly within our limits, less for our own sake 
than for the sake of the men who dwell along their 

252 Thomas Hart Benton 

banks. Columbia, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba 
would, as States of the American Union, hold posi- 
tions incomparably more important, grander, and 
more dignified than they can ever hope to reach 
either as independent commimities or as provin- 
cial dependencies of a foreign power that regards 
them with a kindly tolerance somewhat akin to 
contemptuous indifference. Of course no one 
would wish to see these, or any other settled com- 
munities, now added to our domain by force ; we 
want no unwilling citizens to enter our Union ; the 
time to have taken the lands was before settlers 
came into them. European nations war for the 
possession of thickly settled districts which, if con- 
quered, will for centuries remain alien and hostile 
to the conquerors; we, wiser in our generation, 
have seized the waste solitudes that lay near us, 
the limitless forests and never-ending plains, and 
the valleys of the great, lonely rivers; and have 
thrust our own sons into them to take possession; 
and a score of years after each conquest we see 
the conquered land teeming with a people that is 
one with ourselves. 

Benton felt that all the unoccupied land to the 
northwest was by right our heritage, and he was 
willing to do battle for it if necessary. He was a 
perfect type of western American statesmanship 
in his way of looking at our foreign relations ; he 
was always unwilling to compromise, being of that 

Boundary Troubles 253 

happy temperament which is absolutely certain 
that its claims are just and righteous in their en- 
tirety, and that it would be wrong to accept any- 
thing less than all that is demanded ; he was will- 
ing to bully if our rights, as he deemed them, were 
not granted us ; and he was perfectly ready to fight 
if the bullying was unsuccessful. True, he did not 
consistently carry through all his theories to their 
logical consequences; but it may well be ques- 
tioned whether, after all, his original attitude 
toward Great Britain was not wiser, looking to 
its probable remote results, than that which was 
finally taken by the national government, whose 
policy was on this point largely shaped by the feel- 
ing among the richer and more educated classes of 
the Northeast. These classes have always been 
more cautious and timid than any others in the 
Union, especially in their way of looking at pos- 
sible foreign wars, and have never felt much of 
the spirit which made the West stretch out im- 
patiently for new lands. Fortunately they have 
rarely been able to control our territorial growth. 

No foot of soil to which we had any title in the 
Northwest should have been given up; we were 
the people who could use it best, and we ought to 
have taken it all. The prize was well worth win- 
ning, and would warrant a good deal of risk being 
run. We had even then grown to be so strong 
that we were almost sure eventually to win in any 

254 Thomas Hart Benton 

American contest for continental supremacy. We 
were near by, our foes far away — for the contest 
over the Columbia would have been settled in 
Canada. We should have had hard fighting to be 
sure, but sooner or later the result would have been 
in our favor. There were no better soldiers in the 
world than the men of Balaclava and Inkerman, 
but the victors of Buena Vista and Chapultepec 
were as good. Scott and Taylor were not great 
generals, but they were, at least, the equals of Lord 
Raglan; and we did not have in our service any 
such examples of abnormal military inaptitude as 
Lords Lucan and Cardigan and their kind. 

It was of course to be expected that men like 
Benton would bitterly oppose the famous Ashbur- 
ton treat}?-, which was Webster's crowning work 
while secretary of state, and the only conspicuous 
success of Tyler's administration. The Ashburton 
treaty was essentially a compromise between the 
extreme claims of the two contestants, as was 
natural where the claims were based on very un- 
substantial grounds and the contestants were of 
somewhat the same strength. It was most benefi- 
cial in its immediate effects ; and that it was a per- 
fectly dignified and proper treaty for America to 
make is best proved by the virulent hostility with 
which Palmerston and his followers assailed it as 
a " surrender" on the part of England, while Eng- 
lishmen of the same stamp are to this day never 

Boundary Troubles 255 

tired of lamenting the fact that they have allowed 
our western boundaries to be pushed so far to the 
north. But there appears to be much excuse for 
Benton's attitude, when we look at the treaty as 
one in a chain of incidents, and with regard to its 
future results. Our territorial quarrels with Great 
Britain were not like those between most other 
powers. It was for the interest of the whole west- 
em hemisphere that no European nation should 
have extensive possessions between the Altantic 
and the Pacific; and by right we should have 
given ourselves the benefit of every doubt in all 
territorial questions, and have shown ourselves 
ready to make prompt appeal to the sword when- 
ever it became necessary as a last resort. 

Still, as regards the Ashburton treaty itself, it 
must be admitted that much of Benton's opposi- 
tion was merely factious and partisan, on account 
of its being a Whig measure ; and his speeches on 
the subject contain a number of arguments that 
are not very creditable to him. 

Some of his remarks referred to a matter which 
had been already a cause of great excitement dur- 
ing Van Buren's administration, and on which he 
had spoken more than once. This was the de- 
struction of the steamer Caroline by the British 
during the abortive Canadian insurrection of 1837. 
Much sympathy had been felt for the rebels by 
the Americans along the border, and some of them 

256 Thomas Hart Benton 

had employed the Caroline in conveying stores to 
the insurgents ; and in revenge a party of British 
troops surprised and destroyed her one night while 
she was lying in an American port. This was a 
gross and flagrant violation of our rights, and was 
promptly resented by Van Buren, who had done 
what he could to maintain order along the border, 
and had been successful in his efforts. Benton had 
supported the President in preventing a breach of 
neutrality on our part, and was fiercely indignant 
when the breach was committed by the other side. 
Reparation was demanded forthwith. The British 
government at first made evasive replies. After a 
while a very foolish personage named McLeod, a 
British subject, who boasted that he had taken 
part in the affair, ventured into New York and was 
promptly imprisoned by the state authorities. His 
boastings, fortimately for him, proved to be totally 
unfounded, and he was acquitted by the jury before 
whom he was taken, after a detention of several 
months in prison. But meanwhile the British gov- 
ernment demanded his release — adopting a very 
different tone with Tyler and the Whigs from that 
which they had been using toward Van Buren, 
who still could conjure with Jackson's terrible 
name. The United States agreed to release Mc- 
Leod, but New York refused to deliver him up; 
and before the question was decided he was ac- 
quitted, as said above. It was clearly wrong for 

Boundary Troubles 257 

a State to interfere in a disagreement between the 
nation and a foreign power ; and on the other hand 
the federal authorities did not show as much firm- 
ness in their deaHngs with England as they should 
have shown. Benton, true to certain of his states'- 
rights theories and in pursuance of his policy of 
antagonism to Great Britain, warmly supported 
the attitude of New York, alleging that the United 
States had no right to interfere with her disposal 
of McLeod ; and asserting that while if the citizens 
of one country committed an outrage upon another 
it was necessary to apply to the sovereign for re- 
dress, yet that if the wrong-doers came into the 
country which had been aggrieved they might be 
seized and punished ; and he exultingly referred to 
Jackson's conduct at the time of the first Seminole 
war, when he hung off-hand two British subjects 
whom he accused of inciting the Indians against 
us. Great Britain not making any protest. The 
Caroline matter was finally settled in the Ashbur- 
ton treaty, the British making a formal but very 
guarded apology for her destruction — an apology 
which did not satisfy Benton in the least. It is 
little to Benton's credit, however, that, while thus 
courting foreign wars, he yet opposed the efforts 
of the Whigs to give us a better navy. Our navy 
was then good of its kind, but altogether too small. 
Benton's opposition to its increase seems to have 
proceeded partly from mere bitter partisanship, 

258 Thomas Hart Benton 

partly from sheer ignorance and partly from the 
doctrinaire dread of any kind of standing military 
or naval force, which he had inherited, with a 
good many similar ideas, from the Jeffersonians. 

He attacked the whole treaty, article by article, 
when it came up for ratification in the Senate, 
making an extremely lengthy and elaborate speech 
or rather set of speeches, against it. ^luch of his 
objection, especially to the part compromising the 
territorial claims of the two governments, was well 
founded ; but much was also factious and ground- 
less. The most important point of all that was 
in controversy, the ownership of Oregon, was left 
imsettled; but, as will be shown farther on, this 
was wise. He made this omission a base or pre- 
text for the charge that the treaty was gotten up 
in the interests of the East, — although with frank 
lack of logic he also opposed it because it sacri- 
ficed the interests of Maine, — and that it was det- 
rimental to the South and West; and he did his 
best to excite sectional feeling against it. He also 
protested against the omission of all reference to 
the impressment of American sailors by British 
vessels ; and this was a valid ground of opposition, 
— although Webster had really settled the matter 
by writing a formal note to the British govern- 
ment, in which he practically gave official notice 
that any attempt to revive the practice would be 
repelled by force of arms. 

Boundary Troubles 259 

Benton occupied a much less tenable position 
when he came to the question of slavery, and 
inveighed against the treaty because it did not 
provide for the return of fugitive slaves, or of 
slaves taken from American coasting vessels when 
the latter happened to be obliged to put into West 
Indian ports, and because it did contain a provi- 
sion that we ourselves should keep in commission 
a squadron on the coast of Africa to cooperate 
with the British in the suppression of the slave 
trade. Benton's object in attacking the treaty 
on this point was to excite the South to a degree 
that would make the senators from that section 
refuse to join in ratifying it ; but the attempt was 
a fiat failure . It is hardly to be supposed that he 
himself was as indignant over this question as 
he pretended to be. He must have realized that, 
so long as we had among ourselves an institution 
so wholly barbarous and out of date as slavery, 
just so long we should have to expect foreign 
powers to treat us rather cavalierly on that one 
point. Whatever we might say among ourselves 
as to the rights of property or the necessity of 
preserving the Union by refraining from the dis- 
turbance of slavery, it was certain that foreign 
nations would place the manhood and liberty of 
the slave above the vested interest of the master — 
all the more readily because they were jealous of 
the Union and anxious to see it break up, and 

26o Thomas Hart Benton 

were naturally delighted to take the side of ab- 
stract justice and humanity, when to do so was at 
the expense of outsiders and redounded to their 
own credit, without causing them the least pecu- 
niary loss or personal inconvenience. The attitude 
of slaveholders toward freedom in the abstract 
was grotesque in its lack of logic ; but the attitude 
of many other classes of men, both abroad and at 
home, toward it was equally full of a grimly 
unconscious humor. The Southern planters, who 
loudly sympathized with Kossuth and the Hunga- 
rians, were entirely unconscious that their tyranny 
over their own black bondsmen made their attacks 
upon Austria's despotism absurd; and Germans, 
who were shocked at our holding the blacks in 
slavery, could not think of freedom in their own 
country without a shudder. On one night the 
Democrats of the Northern States would hold a 
mass meeting to further the cause of Irish free- 
dom, on the next night the same men would break 
up another meeting held to help along the freeing 
of the negroes ; while the English aristocracy held 
up its hands in horror at American slavery and 
set its face like a flint against all efforts to do 
Ireland tardy and incomplete justice. 

Again, in his opposition to the extradition clause 
of the treaty, Benton was certainly wrong. Noth- 
ing is clearer than that nations ought to combine 
to prevent criminals from escaping punishment 

Boundary Troubles 261 

merely by fleeing over an imaginary line; the 
crime is against all society, and society should 
imite to punish it. Especially is there need of the 
most stringent extradition laws between coimtries 
whose people have the same speech and legal sys- 
tem, as with the United States and Great Britain. 
Indeed, it is a pity that our extradition laws are 
not more stringent. But Benton saw, or affected 
to see, in the extradition clause, a menace to politi- 
cal refugees, and based his opposition to it mainly 
on this ground. He also quoted on his side the 
inevitable Jefferson; for Jefferson, or rather the 
highly idealized conception of what Jefferson had 
been, shared with the "demos krateo principle" 
the honor of being one of the twin fetiches to 
which Benton, in common with most of his fellow 
Democrats, especially delighted to bow down. 

But when he came to the parts of the treaty 
that defined our northeastern boundary and so 
much of our northwestern boundary as lay near 
the Great Lakes, Benton occupied far more de- 
fensible ground ; and the parts of his speech refer- 
ring to these questions were very strong indeed. 
He attempted to show that in the matter of the 
Maine frontier we had surrendered very much 
more than there was any need of our doing, and 
that the British claim was unfoimded ; and there 
seems now to be good reason for thinking him 
right, although it must be admitted that in 

262 Thomas Hart Benton 

agreeing to the original line in earlier treaties the 
British had acted entirely under a misapprehen- 
sion as to where it would go. Benton was also 
able to make a good point against Webster for 
finally agreeing to surrender so much of Maine's 
claim by showing the opposition the latter had 
made, while in the Senate, to a similar but less 
objectionable clause in a treaty which Jackson's 
administration had then been trying to get 
through. Again Webster had, in defending the 
surrender of certain of our claims along the 
boimdary west of Lake Superior, stated that 
the coimtry was not very valuable, as it was use- 
less for agricultural purposes; and Benton had 
taken him up sharply on this point, saying that 
we wanted the land anyhow, whether it produced 
com and potatoes or only furs and lumber. The 
amounts of territory as to which our claims were 
compromised were not very large compared to 
the extent of the Pacific coast lands which were 
still left in dispute ; and it was perhaps well that 
the treaty was ratified; but certainly there is 
much to be said on Benton's side so far as his 
opposition to the proposed frontier was concerned. 
However, he was only able to rally eight other 
senators to his support, and the treaty went 
through the Senate triumphantly. It encoun- 
tered an even more bitter opposition in Parlia- 
ment, where Palmcrston headed a series of furious 

Boundary Troubles 263 

attacks upon it, for reasons the precise opposite 
of those which Benton alleged, arguing that Eng- 
land received much less, instead of much more, 
than her due, and thereby showing Webster's 
position in a very much better light than that in 
which it would otherwise have appeared. Even- 
tually the British government ratified the treaty. 
The Ashburton treaty did not touch on the 
Oregon matter at all ; nor was this dealt with by 
Webster while he was secretary of state. But it 
came before the Senate at that time, and later on 
Calhoun took it up, when filling Webster's place 
in the cabinet, although a final decision was not 
reached until during Polk's presidency. Webster 
did not appreciate the importance of Oregon in 
the least, and moreover came from a section of 
the country that was not inclined to insist on 
territorial expansion at the hazard of a war, in 
which the merchants of the seaboard would be 
the chief sufferers. Calhoun, it is true, came from 
a peculiarly militant and bellicose State, but on 
the other hand from a section that was not very 
anxious to see the free North acquire new terri- 
tory. So it happened that neither of Tyler's two 
great secretaries felt called upon to insist too 
vehemently upon going to extremes in defense of 
our rights, or supposed rights, along the Pacific 
coast ; and though in the end the balance was 
struck pretty evenly between our claims and 

264 Thomas Hart Benton 

those of our neighbor, yet it is to be regretted 
that we did not stand out stiffly for the whole of 
our demand. Our title was certainly not perfect, 
but it was to the full as good as, or better than, 
Great Britain's ; and it would have been better 
in the end had we insisted upon the whole terri- 
tory being given to us, no matter what price we 
had to pay. 

The politico-social line of division between the 
East and the West had been gradually growing 
fainter as that between the North and the South 
grew deeper ; but on the Oregon question it again 
became prominent. Southeastern Democrats, like 
the Carolinian McDuffie, spoke as slightingly of 
the value of Oregon, and were as little inclined to 
risk a war for its possession, as the most peace- 
loving Whigs of New England ; while the intense 
Western feeling against giving up any of our 
rights on the Pacific coast was best expressed by 
the two senators from the slave State of Mis- 
souri. Benton was not restrained in his desire 
to add to the might of the Union by any fear of 
the possible future effect upon the political power 
of the slave States. Although a slaveholder and 
the representative of slaveholders, he was fully 
alive to the evils of slavery, though as yet not 
seeing clearly how all-important a question it had 
become. The preservation and extension of the 
Union and obedience to the spirit of Democracy 

Boundary Troubles 265 

were the chief articles of his political creed, and 
to these he always subordinated all others. When, 
in speaking of slavery, he made use, as he some- 
times did, of expressions that were not far re- 
moved from those of men really devoted to the 
slave interests, it was almost always because he 
had some ulterior object in view, or for factional 
ends; for imfortunately his standard of political 
propriety was not sufficiently high to prevent his 
trying to make use of any weapon, good or bad, 
with which to overturn his political foes. In pro- 
testing against the Ashburton treaty, he outdid 
even such slavery champions as Calhoun in the 
extravagance of his ideas as to what we should 
demand of foreign powers in reference to their 
treatment of our "pecuHar institution;" but he 
seems to have done this merely because thereby 
he got an additional handle of attack against the 
Whig measures. The same thing was true earlier 
of his fulmination against Clay's proposed Pan- 
ama Congress ; and even before that, in attacking 
Adams for his supposed part in the treaty whereby 
we established the line of our Spanish frontier, he 
dragged slavery into the question, not, apparently, 
because he really particularly wished to see our 
slave territory extended, but because he thought 
that he might use the slavery cry to excite in one 
other section of the country a feeling as strong 
as that which the West already felt in regard to 

266 Thomas Hart Benton 

temtorial expansion generally. Indeed, his whole 
conduct throughout the Oregon controversy, espe- 
cially when taken in connection with the fact that 
he stood out for Maine's frontier rights more 
stoutly than the Maine representatives them- 
selves, shows how free from sectional bias was 
his way of looking at our geographical growth. 

The territory along the Pacific coast lying be- 
tween California on the south and Alaska on the 
north — "Oregon," as it was comprehensively 
called — had been a source of dispute for some 
time between the United States and Great Britain. 
After some negotiations both had agreed with Rus- 
sia to recognize the line of 54° 40' as the southern 
boundary of the latter's possessions; and Mexico's 
undisputed possession of California gave an equally 
well marked southern limit, at the forty-second 
parallel. All between was in dispute. The British 
had trading posts at the mouth of the Columbia, 
which they emphatically asserted to be theirs; we, 
on the other hand, claimed an absolutely clear title 
up to the forty-ninth parallel, a couple of himdred 
miles north of the mouth of the Columbia, and 
asserted that for all the balance of the territory up 
to the Russian possessions our title was at any rate 
better than that of the British. In 18 18 a treaty 
had been made providing for the joint occupation 
of the territory by the two powers, as neither was 
willing to give up its claim to the whole, or at the 

John C Fremont. 

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Boundary Troubles 267 

time at all understood the value of the possession, 
then entirely unpeopled. This treaty of joint oc- 
cupancy had remained in force ever since. Under 
it the British had built great trading stations, and 
used the whole country in the interests of certain 
fur companies. The Americans, in spite of some 
vain efforts, were unable to compete with them in 
this line ; but, what was infinitely more important, 
had begun, even prior to 1840, to establish actual 
settlers along the banks of the rivers, some mis- 
sionaries being the first to come in. As long, how- 
ever, as the territory remained sparsely settled, 
and the communication with it chiefly by sea, the 
hold of Great Britain gave promise of being the 
stronger. But the aspect of affairs was totally 
changed when in 1842 a huge caravan of over a 
thousand Americans made the journey overland 
from the frontiers of Missouri, taking with them 
their wives and their children, their flocks and 
herds, carrying their long rifles on their shoulders, 
and their axes and spades in the great canvas- 
topped wagons. The next year, two thousand 
more settlers of the same sort in their turn crossed 
the vast plains, woimd their way among the 
Rocky Mountains, through the pass explored by 
Fremont, Benton's son-in-law, and after suffering 
every kind of hardship and danger, and warding 
off the attacks of hostile Indians, descended the 
western slope of the great watershed to join their 

268 Thomas Hart Benton 

fellows by the banks of the Columbia. When 
American settlers were once in actual possession 
of the disputed territory, it became evident that 
the period of Great Britain's imdisputed sway was 

The government of the United States, mean- 
while, was so far from helping these settlers that 
it on the contrary rather threw obstacles in their 
way. As usual with us, the individual activity of 
the citizens themselves, who all acted independ- 
ently and with that peculiar self-reliance that is 
the chief American characteristic, outstripped the 
activity of their representatives, who were obliged 
all to act together, and who were therefore held 
back by each other, — our Constitution, while 
giving free scope for individual freedom, wisely 
providing such checks as to make our governmen- 
tal system eminently conservative in its workings. 
Tyler's administration did not wish to embroil 
itself with England; so it refused any aid to the 
settlers, and declined to give them grants of land, 
as under the joint occupancy treaty that would 
have given England offense and cause for com- 
plaint. But Benton and the other Westerners 
were perfectly willing to offend England, if by so 
doing they could help America to obtain Oregon, 
and were too rash and headstrong to count the 
cost of their actions. Accordingly, a bill was in- 
troduced providing for the settlement of Oregon, 

Boundary Troubles 269 

and giving each settler six hundred and forty- 
acres, and additional land if he had a family ; so 
that every inducement was held out to the emi- 
grants, the West wanting to protect and encour- 
age them by all the means in its power. The 
laws and jurisdiction of the Territory of Iowa 
were to be extended to all the settlers on the 
Pacific coast, who hitherto had governed them- 
selves merely by a system of mutual agreements. 

The bill was, of course, strongly opposed, espe- 
cially on account of the clause giving land to the 
settlers. It passed the Senate by a close vote, but 
failed in the House. Naturally Benton was one 
of its chief supporters, and spoke at length in its 
favor. He seized the kernel of the matter when, 
in advocating the granting of land, he spoke of 
immigration as "the only thing which can save 
the country from the British, acting through their 
powerful agent, the Hudson's Bay Company." 
He then blew a lusty note of defiance to Great 
Britain herself: 

I think she will take ofiense, do what we may in 
relation to this territory. She wants it herself, and 
means to quarrel for it, if she does not fight for it. . . . 
I grant that she will take offense, but that is not the 
question with me. Has she a right to take offense? 
That is my question ! And this being decided in the 
negative, I neither fear nor calculate consequences. 
. . . Courage will keep her off, fear will bring her 
upon us. The assertion of our rights will command 

27© Thomas Hart Benton 

her respect ; the fear to assert them will bring us her 
contempt. . . . Neither nations nor individuals ever 
escaped danger by fearing it. They must face it and 
defy it. An abandonment of a right for fear of bring- 
ing on an attack, instead of keeping it off, will inevit- 
ably bring on the outrage that is dreaded. 

He was right enough in his disposition to resent 
the hectoring spirit which, at that time, character- 
ized Great Britain's foreign policy ; but he was all 
wrong in condemning delay, and stating that if 
things were left as they were, time would work 
against us, and not for us. 

In this respect Calhoun, who opposed the bill, 
was much wiser. He advocated a policy of " mas- 
terly inactivity," foreseeing that time was every- 
thing to us, inasmuch as the land was sure in the 
end to belong to that nation whose people had set- 
tled in it, and we alone were able to furnish a con- 
stantly increasing stream of immigrants. Later 
on, however, Calhoun abandoned this policy, prob- 
ably mainly influenced by fear of the extension 
of free territory, and consented to a compromise 
with Great Britain. The true course to have pur- 
sued would have been to have combined the ideas 
of both Benton and Calhoun, and to have gone 
farther than either ; that is, we should have allowed 
the question to remain unsettled as long as was 
possible, because every year saw an increasing 
American population in the coveted lands, and 

Boundary Troubles 271 

rendered the ultimate decision surer to be for us. 
When it was impossible to postpone the question 
longer, we should have insisted upon its being set- 
tled entirely in our favor, no matter at what cost. 
The unsuccessful attempts, made by Benton and 
his supporters, to persuade the Senate to pass a 
resolution, requiring that notice of the termination 
of the joint occupancy treaty should forthwith be 
given, were certainly ill-advised. 

However, even Benton was not willing to go to 
the length to which certain Western men went, 
who insisted upon all or nothing. He had become 
alarmed and angry over the intrigue for the ad- 
mission of Texas and the proposed forcible taking 
away of iMexican territory. The Northwestern 
Democrats wanted all Texas and all Oregon ; the 
Southeastern ones wished all the former and part 
of the latter. Benton then concluded that it would 
be best to take part of each; for, although no 
friend to compromises, yet he was iinwilling to 
jeopardize the safety of the Union as it was by 
seeking to make it still larger. Accordingly, he 
sympathized with the effort made by Calhoun 
while secretary of state to get the British to accept 
the line of 49° as the frontier; but the British 
government then rejected this proposition. In 
1844 the Democrats made their campaign upon 
the issue of "fifty-four forty or fight;" and Polk, 
when elected, felt obliged to insist upon this 

272 Thomas Hart Benton 

campaign boundary. To this, however, Great Brit- 
ain naturally woiild not consent ; it was, indeed, 
idle to expect her to do so, unless things should be 
kept as they were until a fairly large American 
population had grown up along the Pacific coast, 
and had thus put her in a position where she could 
hardly do anything else. Polk's administration 
was neither capable nor warlike, however well- 
disposed to bluster; and the secretary of state, 
the timid, shifty, and selfish politician, Buchanan, 
naturally fond of facing both ways, was the last 
man to force a quarrel on a high-spirited and de- 
termined antagonist like England. Accordingly, 
he made up his mind to back down and try for 
the line of 49°, as proposed by Calhoun, when in 
Tyler's cabinet; and the English, for all their 
affected indifference, had been so much impressed 
by the warlike demonstrations in the United 
States, that they in turn were deHghted, singing 
in a much lower key than before the "fifty-four 
forty " cry had been raised ; accordingly they with- 
drew their former pretensions to the Columbia 
River and accepted the offered compromise. Now, 
however, came the question of getting the treaty 
through the Senate ; and Buchanan sounded Ben- 
ton, to see if he would undertake this task. 

Benton, worried over the Texas matter, was 
willing to recede somewhat from the very high 
groimd he had taken, — although, of course, he 

Boundary Troubles 273 

insisted that he had been perfectly consistent 
throughout, and that the forty-ninth parallel was 
the line he had all along been striving for. Under 
his lead the proposal for a treaty on the basis in- 
dicated was carried through the Senate, and the 
line in consequence ultimately became our fron- 
tier, in spite of the frantic opposition of the North- 
western Democrats, the latter hurling every sort 
of charge of bad faith and treachery at their South- 
em associates, who had joined with the Whigs in 
defeating them. Benton's speech in support of 
the proposal was pitched much lower than had 
been his previous ones; and, a little forgetful of 
some of his own remarks, he was especially severe 
upon those members who denounced England and 
held up a picture of her real or supposed designs 
to excite and frighten the people into needless 
opposition to her. 

In its immediate effects the adoption of the 
forty-ninth parallel as the dividing line between 
the two countries was excellent, and entailed no 
loss of dignity on either. Yet, as there was no 
particular reason why we should show any gen- 
erosity in our diplomatic dealings with England, 
it may well be questioned whether it would not 
have been better to have left things as they were 
imtil we could have taken all. Wars are, of 
course, as a rule to be avoided ; but they are far 
better than certain kinds of peace. Every war 

274 Thomas Hart Benton 

in which we have been engaged, except the one 
with Mexico, has been justifiable in its origin ; and 
each one, without any exception whatever, has 
left us better off, taking both moral and material 
considerations into account, than we should have 
been if we had not waged it. 


the abolitionists dance to the slave 
barons' piping. 

N 1844 the Whig candidate for the presidency, 
Henry Clay, was defeated by a Mr. Polk, the 
nominee of the Democracy. The majorities 
in several of the States were very small ; this was 
the case, for example, in New York, the change in 
whose electoral vote would have also changed the 
entire result. 

Up to i860 there were very few political con- 
tests in which the dividing lines between right and 
wrong so nearly coincided with those drawn be- 
tween the two opposing parties as in that of 1844. 
The Democrats favored the annexation of Texas, 
and the addition of new slave territory to the 
Union ; the Whigs did not. Almost every good 
element in the country stood behind Clay; the 
vast majority of intelligent, high-minded, upright 
men supported him. Polk was backed by rabid 
Southern fire-eaters and slavery extensionists, who 
had deified negro bondage and exalted it beyond 
the Union, the Constitution, and everything else ; 
by the almost solid foreign vote, still unfit for the 
duties of American citizenship ; by the vicious and 
criminal classes in all the great cities of the North 


276 Thomas Hart Benton 

and in New Orleans; by the corrupt politicians, 
who found ignorance and viciousness tools ready 
forged to their hands, wherewith to perpetrate the 
gigantic frauds without which the election would 
have been lost; and, lastly, he was also backed 
indirectly but most powerfully by the political 

These Abolitionists had formed themselves into 
the Liberty party, and ran Bimey for president; 
and though they polled but little over sixty thou- 
sand votes, yet as these were drawn almost en- 
tirely from the ranks of Clay's supporters, they 
were primarily responsible for his defeat ; for the 
defections were sufficiently large to turn the scale 
in certain pivotal and closely contested States, 
notably New York. Their action in this case was 
wholly evil, alike in its immediate and its remote 
results ; they simply played into the hands of the 
extreme slavery men like Calhoun, and became, 
for the time being, the willing accomplices of the 
latter. Yet they would have accomplished noth- 
ing had it not been for the frauds and outrages 
perpetrated by the gangs of native and foreign- 
bom ruffians in the great cities, under the leader- 
ship of such brutal rowdies as Isaiah Rynders. 

These three men, Calhoun, Birney, and Isaiah 
Rynders, may be taken as types of the classes that 
were chiefly instrumental in the election of Polk, 
and that must, therefore, bear the responsibility 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 277 

for all the evils attendant thereon, including 
among them the bloody and unrighteous war with 
Alexico. With the purpose of advancing the cause 
of abstract right, but with the result of sacrificing 
all that was best, most honest, and most high- 
principled in national politics, the Abolitionists 
joined hands with Northern roughs and Southern 
slaveocrats to elect the man who was, excepting 
Tyler, the ver^'" smallest of the line of small presi- 
dents who came in between Jackson and Lincoln. 
Owing to a variety of causes the Abolitionists 
have received an immense amount of hysterical 
praise, which they do not deserve, and have been 
credited with deeds done by other men, whom they 
in reality hampered and opposed rather than aided. 
After 1840 the professed Abolitionists formed but 
a small and comparatively -unimportant portion of 
the forces that were working toward the restriction 
and ultimate destruction of slavery; and much 
of what they did was positively harmful to the 
cause for which they were fighting. Those of their 
number who considered the Constitution as a 
league with death and hell, and who therefore 
advocated a dissolution of the Union, acted as 
rationally as would anti-polygamists nowadays 
if, to show their disapproval of Mormonism, they 
should advocate that Utah should be allowed to 
form a separate nation. The only hope of ulti- 
mately suppressing slavery lay in the preservation 

278 Thomas Hart Benton 

of the Union, and every Abolitionist who argued 
or signed a petition for its dissolution was doing 
as much to perpetuate the evil he complained of as 
if he had been a slaveholder. The Liberty party, 
in running Bimey, simply committed a political 
crime, evil in almost all its consequences; they in 
no sense paved the way for the Republican party, 
or helped forward the anti-slavery cause, or hurt 
the existing organizations. Their effect on the 
Democracy was nil; and all they were able to 
accomplish with the Whigs was to make them put 
forward for the ensuing campaign a slaveholder 
from Louisiana, with whom the}^ were successful. 
Such were the remote results of their conduct ; the 
immediate evils they produced have already been 
alluded to. They bore considerable resemblance 
— except that, after all, they really did have a 
principle to contend for — to the political prohibi- 
tionists of the present day, who go into the third 
party organizations, and are, not even excepting 
the saloon-keepers themselves, the most efficient 
allies on whom intemperance and the liquor traffic 
can coimt. 

Anti-slavery men like Giddings, who supported 
Clay, were doing a thousandfold more effective 
work for the cause they had at heart than all the 
voters who supported Bimey ; or, to speak more 
accurately, they were doing all they could to ad- 
vance the cause, and the others were doing all they 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 279 

could to hold it back. Lincoln in i860 occupied 
more nearly the ground held by Clay than that 
held by Bimey; and the men who supported the 
latter in 1844 were the prototypes of those who 
wished to oppose Lincoln in i860, and only worked 
less hard because they had less chance. The ultra- 
Abolitionists discarded expediency, and claimed to 
act for abstract right, on principle, no matter what 
the results might be ; in consequence they accom- 
plished very little, and that as much for harm as 
for good, until they ate their words, went counter 
to their previous course, thereby acknowledging it 
to be bad, and supported in the Republican party 
the men and principles they had so fiercely con- 
demned. The Liberty party was not in any sense 
the precursor of the Republican party, which was 
based as much on expediency as on abstract right, 
and was therefore able to accomplish good instead 
of harm. To say that the extreme Abolitionists 
triumphed in Republican success and were causes 
of it, is as absurd as it would be to call prohibition- 
ists successful if, after countless futile efforts 
totally to prohibit the liquor traffic, and after 
savage denunciation of those who try to regulate 
it, they should then turn round and form a com- 
paratively insignificant portion of a victorious 
high-license party. 

I\Iany people in speaking of the Abolitionists 
apparently forget that the national government, 

28o Thomas Hart Benton 

even iinder Republican rule, would never have 
meddled with slavery in the various States unless 
as a war measure, made necessary by the rebellion 
into which the South was led by a variety of 
causes, of which slavery was chief, but among 
which there were others that were also prominent ; 
such as the separatist spirit of certain of the com- 
munities and the unscrupulous, treacherous am- 
bition of such men as Davis, Floyd, and the rest. 
The Abolitionists' political organizations, such as 
the Liberty party, generally produced very little 
effect either way, and were scarcely thought of 
during the contests waged for freedom in Congress. 
The men who took a great and effective part in the 
fight against slavery were the men who remained 
within their respective parties ; like the Democrats 
Benton and Wilmot, or the Whigs Seward and Ste- 
vens. When a new party with more clearly de- 
fined principles was formed, they, for the most 
part, went into it ; but, like all other men who have 
ever had a really great influence, whether for good 
or bad, on American politics, they did not act in- 
dependently of parties, but on the contrary kept 
within party lines — although, of course, none of 
them were mere blind and unreasoning partisans. 
The plea that slavery was a question of princi- 
ple, on which no compromise could be accepted, 
might have been made and could still be made on 
twenty other points, — woman suffrage, for in- 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 281 

stance. Of course, to give women their just rights 
does not by any means imply that they should 
necessarily be allowed to vote, any more than the 
bestowal of the rights of citizenship upon blacks 
and aliens must of necessity carry with it the same 
privilege. But there were until lately, and in 
some States there are now, laws on the statute- 
book in reference to women that are in principle 
as imjust, and that are quite as much the rem- 
nants of archaic barbarism as was the old slave 
code ; and though it is true that they do not work 
anything like the evil of the latter, they yet cer- 
tainly work evil enough. The same laws that in 
one Southern State gave a master a right to whip 
a slave also allowed him to whip his wife, pro- 
vided he used a stick no thicker than his little 
finger; the legal permission to do the latter was 
even more outrageous than that to do the former, 
yet no one considered it a ground for wishing a 
dissolution of the Union or for declaring against 
the existing parties. The folly of voting the 
Liberty ticket in 1844 differed in degree, but not 
at all in kind, from the folly of voting the Woman 
Suffrage ticket in 1884. 

The intrigue for the annexation of Texas, and 
for thereby extending the slave territory of the 
Union, had taken shape toward the close of Tyler's 
term of office, while Calhoun was secretary of 
state. Benton, as an aggressive Western man, 

282 Thomas Hart Benton 

desirous of seeing our territorial possessions ex- 
tended in any direction, north or south, always 
hoped that in the end Texas might be admitted 
into the Union ; but he disliked seeing any prema- 
ture steps taken, and was no party to the scheme 
of forcing an immediate annexation in the inter- 
ests of slavery. Such immediate annexation was 
certain, among other things, to bring us into grave 
difHculties not only with Mexico, but also with 
England, which was strongly inclined to take 
much interest of a practical sort in the fate of 
Texas, and would, of course, have done all it could 
to bring about the abolition of slavery in that 
State. The Southerners, desirous of increasing 
the slave domain, and always in a state of fierce 
alarm over the proximity of any free State that 
might excite a servile insiurection, were impatient 
to add the Lone Star Republic of the Rio Grande 
to the number of their States ; the Southwestem- 
ers fell in with them, influenced, though less 
strongly, by the same motives, and also by the 
lust for new lands and by race hatred toward the 
Mexicans and traditional jealousy of Great Britain ; 
and these latter motives induced many North- 
westerners to follow suit. By a judicious harping 
on all these strings Jackson himself, whose name 
was still a mighty power among the masses, was 
induced to write a letter favoring instant and 
prompt annexation. 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 283 

This letter was really procured for political piir- 
poses. Tyler had completely identified himself 
with the Democracy, and especially w4th its ex- 
treme separatist w4ng, to which Calhoun also be- 
longed, and which had grown so as to be already 
almost able to take the reins. The separatist 
chiefs were intriguing for the presidency, and were 
using annexation as a cry that would help them ; 
and, failing in this attempt, many of the leaders 
were willing to break up the Union, and turn the 
Southern States, together with Texas, into a 
slave-holding confederacy. After Benton, the great 
champion of the old-style Union Democrats was 
Van Buren, who was opposed to immediate annex- 
ation, sharing the feeling that prevailed through- 
out the Northeast generally ; although in certain 
circles all through the country there were men at 
work in its favor, largely as a mere matter of job- 
bery and from base motives, on account of specu- 
lations in Texan land and scrip, into which various 
capitaHsts and adventurers had gone rather exten- 
sively Jackson, though a Southerner, warmly 
favored Van Buren, and was bitterly opposed to 
separatists ; but the latter, by cunningly working 
on his feelings, without showing their own hands, 
persuaded him to write the letter mentioned, and 
promptly used it to destroy the chances of Van 
Buren, who was the man they chiefly feared; and 
though Jackson, at last roused to what was going 

284 Thomas Hart Benton 

on, immediately announced himself as in favor of 
Van Buren's candidacy, it was too late to undo the 

Benton showed on this, as on many other occa- 
sions, much keener political ideas than his great 
political chief. He was approached by a politi- 
cian, who himself was either one of those con- 
cerned in the presidential intrigues, or else one of 
their dupes, and who tried to win him over to take 
the lead on their side, complimenting him upon his 
former services to the cause of territorial expan- 
sion toward the Southwest. Ordinarily the great 
Missourian was susceptible enough to such flat- 
tery; but on this occasion, preoccupied with the 
idea of an intrigue for the presidency, and indig- 
nant that there should be an effort made to impH- 
cate him in it, especially as it was mixed up v/ith 
schemes of stock-jobbing and of disloyalty to the 
Union, he took fire at once, and answered with hot 
indignation, in words afterward highly resented 
by his questioner, " that it was on the part of some 
an intrigue for the presidency, and a plot to dis- 
solve the Union; on the part of others, a Texas 
scrip and land speculation; and that he was 
against it." The answer was published in the 
papers, and brought about a total break between 
Benton and the annexation party. 

He was now thoroughly on the alert, and 
actively opposed at all points the schemes of 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 285 

those whom he regarded as concerned in or in- 
stigating the intrigue. He commented harshly on 
Tyler's annual message, which made a strong plea 
for annexation, even at the cost of a war both with 
Great Britain and Mexico ; also on Calhoun's letter 
to Lord Aberdeen, which was certainly a remark- 
able diplomatic document, — being a thesis on slav- 
ery and the benefits resulting from it. Tyler's 
object was to prepare the way for a secret treaty, 
which should secure the desired object. Benton, 
in the course of some severe strictures on his acts, 
said, very truly, that it was evidently the intention 
to keep the whole matter as secret as possible imtil 
the treaty was concluded, "and then to force its 
adoption for the purpose of increasing the area of 
slave territory, or to make its rejection a cause for 
the secession of the Southern States ; and in either 
event and in all cases to make the question of 
annexation a controlling one in the nomination 
of presidential candidates, and also in the election 

When the treaty proposed by the administration 
was rejected, and when it became evident that 
neither Tyler nor Calhoim, the two most promi- 
nent champions of the extreme separatists, had 
any chance for the Democratic nomination, the 
disimion side of the intrigue was brought to the 
front in many of the Southern States, beginning, 
of course, with South Carolina. A movement was 

286 Thomas Hart Benton 

made for a convention of the Southern States, to 
be held in the interest of the scheme ; the key- 
note being struck in the cry of ' ' Texas or dis- 
union!" But this convention was given up, on 
accoimt of the strong opposition it excited in the 
so-called " Border States," — an opposition largely 
stirred up and led by Benton. Once more the 
haughty slave leaders of the Southeast had foimd 
that in the Missouri senator they had an opponent 
whose fearlessness quite equaled their own, and 
whose stubborn temper and strength of purpose 
made him at least a match for themselves, in spite 
of all their dash and fiery impetuosity. It must 
have sounded strange, indeed, to Northern ears, 
accustomed to the harsh railings and insolent 
threats of the South Carolina senators, to hear one 
of the latter complaining that Benton's tone in the 
debate was arrogant, overbearing, and dictatorial 
toward those who were opposed to him. This 
same senator, McDuffie, had been speaking of the 
proposed Southern meeting at Nashville ; and 
Benton warned him that such a meeting would 
never take place, and that he had mistaken the 
temper of the Tennesseans; and also reminded 
him that General Jackson was still alive, and that 
the South Carolinians in particular must needs be 
careful if they hoped to agree with his followers, 
whose name was still legion, because he would cer- 
tainly take the same position toward a disimion 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 287 

movement in the interests of slavery that he had 
already taken toward a nullification movement in 
the interests of free trade. "Preservation of the 
Federal Union is as strong in the old Roman's 
heart now as ever; and while, as a Christian, he 
forgives all that is past (if it were past) , yet no old 
tricks under new names! Texas disunion will be 
to him the same as tariff disunion ; and if he de- 
tects a Texas disimionist nestling into his bed, I 
say again : Woe imto the luckless wight ! " Boldly 
and forcibly he went on to paint the real motives 
of the promoters of the scheme, and the real char- 
acter of the scheme itself; stating that, though 
mixed up with various speculative enterprises and 
other intrigues, yet disunion was at the bottom of 
it all, and that already the cry had become, 
"Texas without the Union, rather than the Union 
without Texas!" "Under the pretext of getting 
Texas into the Union the scheme is to get the 
South out of it. A Southern Confederacy stretch- 
ing from the Atlantic to the Calif omias ... is the 
cherished vision of disappointed ambition." He 
bitterly condemned secession, as simply disunion 
begat by nullification, and went on to speak of his 
own attitude in apparently opposing the admission 
of Texas, which he had always desired to see 
become a part of the Union, and which he had 
always insisted rightfully belonged to us, and to 
have been given away by Monroe's treaty with 

288 Thomas Hart Benton 

Spain. "All that is intended and foreseen. The 
intrigue for the presidency was the first act in the 
drama; the dissolution of the Union the second. 
And I, who hate intrigue and love the Union, can 
only speak of the intriguers and disunionists with 
warmth and indignation. The oldest advocate for 
the recovery of Texas, I must be allowed to speak 
in just terms of the criminal politicians who prosti- 
tuted the question of its recovery to their own base 
purposes, and delayed its success by degrading and 
disgracing it. A Western man, and coming from 
a State more than any other interested in the re- 
covery of this coimtry, so unaccountably thrown 
away by the treaty of 1819, I must be allowed to 
feel indignant at seeing Atlantic politicians seizing 
upon it, and making it a sectional question for the 
purposes of ambition and disunion. I have spoken 
warmly of these plotters and intriguers; but I 
have not permitted their conduct to alter my own, 
or to relax my zeal for the recovery of the sacri- 
ficed coimtry. I have helped to reject the dis- 
union treaty ; and that obstacle being removed, I 
have brought in the bill which will insure the re- 
covery of Texas, with peace and honor, and with 
the Union." 

It is important to remember, in speaking of his 
afterward voting to admit Texas, that this was 
what he had all along favored, and that he now 
opposed it only on account of special circum- 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 289 

stances. In both cases he was right ; for, slavery 
or no slavery, it would have been a most unfor- 
tunate thing for us, and still worse for the Texans, 
if the latter had been allowed to develop into an 
independent nation. Benton deserves the great- 
est credit for the way in which he withstood the 
ignorant popular feeling of his own section in 
regard to Tyler's proposed treaty; and not only 
did he show himself able to withstand pressure 
from behind him, but also prompt in resenting 
threats made by outsiders. When McDuffie told 
him that the remembrance of his attitude on the 
bill would, to his harm, meet him on some future 
day, like the ghost that appeared to Brutus at 
Philippi, he answered: 

I can promise the ghost and his backers that if the 
fight goes against me at this new Philippi, with which 
I am threatened, and the enemies of the American 
Union triumph over me as the enemies of Roman lib- 
erty triumphed over Brutus and Cassias, I shall not 
fall upon my sword, as Brutus did, though Cassius be 
killed, and run it through my own body; but I shall 
save it and save myself for another day and another 
use, — for the day when the battle of the disunion of 
these States is to be fought, not with words but with 
iron, and for the hearts of the traitors who appear in 
arms against their country. 

Such a stem, defiant, almost prophetic warning 
did more to help the Union cause than volumes of 
elaborate constitutional argument, and it would 

290 Thomas Hart Benton 

have been well for the Northern States had they 
possessed men as capable of uttering it as was the 
iron Westerner. Benton always showed at his 
best when the honor or integrity of the nation was 
menaced, whether by foes from without or by foes 
from within. On such occasions his metal always 
rang true. When there was any question of break- 
ing faith with the Union, or of treachery toward 
it, his figure always loomed up as one of the chief 
in the ranks of its defenders; and his follies and 
W'Caknesses sink out of sight when we think of the 
tremendous debt which the country owes him for 
his sorely tried and unswerving loyalty. 

The treaty alluded to by Benton in his speech 
against the abortive secession movement was the 
one made with Texas while Calhoun was secretary 
of state, and submitted to the Senate by Tyler, 
with a message as extraordinary as some of his 
secretary's utterances. The treaty was preposter- 
ously unjust and iniquitous. It provided for the 
annexation of Texas, and also of a very large por- 
tion of Mexico, to which Texas had no possible 
title, and this without consulting Mexico in any 
way whatever ; Calhoim advancing the plea that it 
was necessary to act immediately on account of the 
danger that Texas was in of falling tmder the 
control of England, and therefore having slavery 
abolished within its borders ; while Tyler blandly 
announced that we had acquired title to the ceded 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 291 

territory — which belonged to one power and was 
ceded to us by another — through his signature to 
the treaty, and that, pending its ratification by 
the Senate, he had despatched troops to the scene 
of action to protect the ceded land "from inva- 
sion," — the territory to be thus protected from 
Mexican invasion being then and always having 
been part and parcel of Mexico. 

Benton opposed the ratification of the treaty in 
a very strong speech, during which he mercilessly 
assailed both Tyler and Calhoun. The conduct of 
the former he dismissed with the contemptuous 
remark that he had committed "a caper about 
equal to the mad freaks with which the unfor- 
tunate Emperor Paul, of Russia, was accustomed 
to astonish Europe ;" and roughly warned him to 
be careful how he tried to imitate Jackson's 
methods, because in heroic imitations there was 
no middle ground, and if he failed to fill the role of 
hero he would then perforce find himself playing 
that of harlequin. Calhoun received more atten- 
tion, for he was far more worthy of a foeman's 
steel than was his nominal superior, and Benton 
exposed at length the wilful exaggeration and the 
perversion of the truth of which the Carolinian 
had been guilty in trying to raise the alarm of 
English interference in Texas, for the purpose 
of excusing the haste with which the treaty was 
carried through. 

292 Thomas Hart Benton 

He showed at length the outrage we should in- 
flict upon Mexico by seizing ' ' two thousand miles 
of her territory, without a word of explanation 
with her, and by virtue of a treaty with Texas to 
which she was no party;" and he conclusively 
proved, making use of his own extensive acquaint- 
ance with history, especially American history, 
that the old Texas, the only territory that the 
Texans themselves or we could claim with any 
shadow of right, made but a fraction of the terri- 
tory now "ceded" to us. He laughed at the idea 
of calling the territory Texas, and speaking of its 
forcible cutting off as re -annexation, "Humboldt 
calls it New Mexico, Chihuahua, Coahuila, and 
Nuevo Santander; and the civilized world may 
qualify this r^-annexation by some odious and 
terrible epithet . . . robbery;" then he went on 
to draw a biting contrast between our treatment 
of Mexico and our treatment of England. "Would 
we take two thousand miles of Canada in the same 
way? I presume not. And why not? Why not 
treat Great Britain and Mexico alike? Why not 
march up to ' fifty-four forty ' as courageously as 
we march upon the Rio Grande? Because Great 
Britain is powerful and Mexico weak, — a reason 
which may fail in policy as much as in morals." 
Also he ridiculed the flurry of fear into which the 
Southern slaveholders affected to be cast by the 
dread of England's hostility to slavery, when they 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 293 

had just acquiesced in making a treaty with her 
by which we bound ourselves to help to put down 
the slave trade. He then stated his own position, 
showing why he wished us to have the original 
Texan lands, if we could get them honorably, and 
without robbing Mexico of new territory ; and at 
the same time sneered at Calhoun and Tyler be- 
cause they had formerly favored the Monroe 
treaty, by which we abandoned our claims to 

We want Texas, that is to say, the Texas of La 
Salle; and we want it for great natural reasons, 
obvious as day, and permanent as nature. We want 
it because it is geographically appurtenant to our 
division of North America, essential to our political, 
commercial, and social system, and because it would 
be detrimental and injurious to us to have it fall into 
the hands or sink under the dornination of any foreign 
power. For these reasons I was against sacrificing 
the country when it was thrown away, — and thrown 
away by those who are now so suddenly possessed of 
a fury to get it back. For these reasons, I am for 
getting it back whenever it can be done with peace 
and honor, or even at the price of just war against any 
intrusive European power; but I am against all dis- 
guise and artifice, — against all pretexts, — and espe- 
cially against weak and groundless pretexts, discredit- 
able to ourselves and offensive to others, too thin and 
shallow not to be seen through by every beholder, and 
merely invented to cover unworthy purposes. 

The treaty was rejected by an overwhelming 

294 Thomas Hart Benton 

vote, although Buchanan led a few of his time- 
serving comrades from the North to the support 
of the extreme Southern element. Benton then 
tried, but failed, to get through a bill providing 
for a joint agreement between Mexico, Texas, and 
the United States to settle definitely all boundary- 
questions. Meanwhile the presidential election 
occurred, with the result already mentioned. The 
separatist and annexationist Democrats, the ex- 
treme slavery wing of the party, defeated Van 
Buren and nominated Polk, who was their man; 
the Whigs nominated Clay, who was heartily 
opposed to all the schemes of the disunion and 
extreme slavery men, and who, if elected, while 
he might very properly have consented to the 
admission of Texas with its old boundaries, would 
never have brought on a war nor have attempted 
to add a vast extent of new slave territory to 
the Union. Clay would have been elected, and 
the slavery disunionists defeated, if in the very 
nick of time the Abolitionists had not stepped in 
to support the latter, and by their blindness in 
supporting Bimey given the triumph to their own 
most bitter opponents. Then the Abolitionists, 
having played their onl}^ card, and played it badly, 
had to sit still and see what evil their acts had pro- 
duced; they had accomplished just as much as 
men generally do accomplish when they dance to 
the tune that their worst foes play. 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 295 

Polk's election gave an enormous impulse to the 
annexation movement, and made it doubly and 
trebly difficult for any one to withstand it. The 
extreme disimion and slavery men, of course, 
hated Benton, himself a South westerner from a 
slaveholding State, w4th peciiliar venom, on ac- 
coimt of his attitude, very justly regarding him 
as the main obstacle in their path; and the din 
and outcry raised against all who opposed the 
schemes of the intriguers was directed with espe- 
cial fury against the Missourian He was accused 
of being allied to the Whigs, of wishing to break 
up the Democracy, and of many other things. 
Indeed, Benton's own people were very largely 
against him, and it must always be remembered 
that whereas Northeastern statesmen were certain 
to be on the popular side in taking a stand against 
the extreme pro-slavery men, Benton's position 
was often just the reverse. With them it was 
politic to do right ; with him it was not ; and for 
this reason the praise awarded the latter should 
be beyond measure greater than that awarded to 
the former. 

Still, there can be little question that he was 
somewhat, even although only slightly, influenced 
by the storm of which he had to bear the brunt ; 
indeed, he would have been more than human if 
he had not been ; and probably this outside pres- 
sure was one among the causes that induced him 

296 Thomas Hart Benton 

to accept a compromise in the matter, which took 
effect just before Polk was inaugurated. The 
House of Representatives had passed a resolution 
giving the consent of Congress to the admission 
of Texas as a State, and allowing it the privilege of 
forming four additional States out of its territory, 
whenever it should see fit. The line of the Mis- 
souri Compromise, 36° 30', was run through this 
new territory, slavery being prohibited in the lands 
lying north of it, and permissible or not, according 
to the will of the State seeking admission, in those 
lying south of it. Benton meanwhile had intro- 
duced a bill merely providing that negotiations 
should be entered into with Texas for its admis- 
sion, the proposed treaty or articles of agreement 
to be submitted to the Senate or to Congress. He 
thereby kept the control in the hands of the legis- 
lature, which the joint resolution did not; and 
moreover, as he said in his speech, he wished to 
provide for due consideration being shown Mexico 
in the arrangement of the boundary, and for the 
matter being settled by commissioners. 

Neither resolution nor bill could get through by 
itself ; and accordingly it was proposed to combine 
both into one measure, leaving the President free 
to choose either plan. To this proposition Benton 
finally consented, it being understood that, as only 
three days of Tyler's term remained, the execution 
of the act would be left to the incoming President, 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 297 

and that the latter would adopt Benton's plans. 
The friends of the admission of Texas assured the 
doubtful voters that such would be the case. Polk 
himself gave full assurance that he would appoint 
a commission, as provided by Benton's bill, if 
passed, with the House resolution as an alterna- 
tive; and McDuffie, Calhoun's friend, and the 
senator from South Carolina, announced without 
reserve that Calhoun — for Tyler need not be con- 
sidered in the matter, after it had been committed 
to the great nullifier — would not have the " audac- 
ity" to try to take the settlement of the question 
away from the President who was to be inaugu- 
rated on the fourth of March. On the strength of 
these assurances, which, if made good, would, of 
course, have rendered the "alternative" a merely 
nominal one, Benton supported the measure, which 
was then passed. Contrary to all expectation, Cal- 
houn promptly acted upon the legislative clause, 
and Polk made no effort to undo what the former 
had done. This caused intense chagrin and anger 
to the Bentonians ; but they should certainly have 
taken such a contingency into account, and though 
they might with much show of reason say that 
they had been tricked into acting as they had 
done, yet it is probable that the immense pressure 
from behind had made Benton too eager to follow 
any way he could find that would take him out of 
the position into which his conscience had led him. 

298 Thomas Hart Benton 

No amount of pressure would have made him de- 
Hberately sanction a wrong ; but it did render him 
a little less wary in watching to see that the right 
was not infringed upon. It was most natural that 
he should be anxious to find a common ground for 
himself and his constituents to stand on ; but it is 
to be regretted that this anxiety to find a common 
ground should have made him willing to trust 
blindly to vague pledges and promises, which he 
ought to have known would not be held in the 
least binding by those on whose behalf they were 
supposed to be made. 

Acting under this compromise measure Texas 
was admitted, and the foundation for our war with 
Mexico was laid. Calhoun, under whom this was 
done, nevertheless sincerely regretted the war 
itself, and freely condemned Polk's administration 
for bringing it on ; his own position being that he 
desired to obtain without a war what it was im- 
possible we should get except at the cost of one. 
Benton, who had all along consistently opposed 
doing a wrong to Mexico, attacked the whole war 
party, and in a strong and bitter speech accused 
Calhoun of being the cause of the contest ; show- 
ing plainly that, whatever the ex-secretary of state 
might say in regard to the acts immediately pre- 
cipitating the conflict, he himself was responsible 
as being in truth their original cause. While 
stating his conviction, however, that Calhoun was 

Abolitionists and Slave Barons 299 

the real author of the war, Benton added that he 
did not beHeve that war was his object, although 
an inevitable incident of the course he had pur- 

Although heartily opposed to the war in its 
origin, Benton very properly believed in prose- 
cuting it with the utmost vigor when once we were 
fairly in; and it was mainly owing to him that 
the proposed policy of a "masterly inactivity" 
was abandoned, and the scheme of pushing 
straight for the city of ]\Iexico adopted in its stead. 
Indeed, it was actually proposed to make him 
lieutenant-general, and therefore the commander- 
in-chief of our forces in Mexico ; but this was de- 
feated in the Senate, very fortunately, as it would 
have been a great outrage upon Scott, Taylor, and 
every other soldier with real military training. It 
seems extraordinary that Benton himself should 
not have seen the absurdity and wrong of such a 

The wonderful hardihood and daring shown in 
the various expeditions against Mexico, especially 
in those whereby her northwest territory was 
wrested from her, naturally called forth all Ben- 
ton's sympathy; and one of his best speeches was 
that made to welcome Doniphan's victorious vol- 
unteers after their return home from their famous 
march to Chihuahua. 



HARDLY was Polk elected before it became 
evident to Benton and the other Jack- 
sonians that the days of the old Union 
or Nationalist Democracy were over, and that the 
separatist and disunion elements within the party 
had obtained the upper hand. The first sign of 
the new order of things was the displacement of 
Blair, editor of the Globe, the Democratic news- 
paper organ. Blair was a strong Unionist, and 
had been bitterly hostile to Calhoun and the Nulli- 
fiers. He had also opposed Tyler, the representa- 
tive of those states'-rights and separatist Demo- 
crats, who by their hostility to Jackson had been 
temporarily driven into the Whig camp, and who, 
finding themselves in very uncongenial society, 
and seeing, moreover, that their own principles 
were gradually coming to the front in the old 
party, had begun drifting back again into it. 
Polk's chances of election were so precarious that 
he was most anxious to conciliate the separatists ; 
besides which he at heart sympathized with their 
views, and had himself been brought forward in 
the Democratic convention to beat the National 

candidate. Van Buren. Moreover, Tyler with- 


Slavery in the New Territories 301 

drew from the contest in his favor; in part pay- 
ment for which help, soon after the election, Blair 
was turned out, and Ritchie, of Virginia, a man 
whose views suited the new Democratic leaders, 
was put in his place ; to the indignation not only 
of Benton, but also of Jackson himself, then almost 
on his death-bed. Of course the break between 
the two wings was as yet by no means complete. 
Polk needed the Union Democrats, and the latter 
were still in good party standing. Benton him- 
self, as has been seen, was offered the command of 
all the forces in Mexico, but the governmental 
policy and the attitude of the party in Congress 
after 1844 were widely different from what they 
had been while Jackson's influence was supreme, 
or while the power he left behind him was wielded 
by a knot of Union men. 

From this time the slavery question dwarfed all 
others, and was the one with which Benton, as well 
as other statesmen, had mainly to deal. He had 
been very loath to acknowledge that it was ever to 
become of such overshadowing importance ; imtil 
late in his life he had not realized that, interwoven 
with the disunionist movement, it had grown so 
as to become in reality the one and only question 
before the people ; but, this once thoroughly under- 
stood, he henceforth devoted his tremendous ener- 
gies to the struggle with it. He possessed such 
phenomenal power of application and of study, 

302 Thomas Hart Benton 

and his capacity for and his deHght in work were 
so extraordinary, that he was able at the same 
time to grapple with many other subjects of im- 
portance, and to present them in a way that 
showed he had thoroughly mastered them both in 
principle and detail, — as witness his speech in 
favor of giving the control of the coast survey to 
the navy; but henceforth the importance of his 
actions lay in their relation to the slavery exten- 
sion movements. 

He had now entered on what may fairly be 
called the heroic part of his career; for it would 
be difficult to choose any other word to express 
our admiration for the unflinching and defiant 
courage with which, supported only by conscience 
and by his loving loyalty to the Union, he bat- 
tled for the losing side, although by so doing he 
jeopardized and eventually ruined his political 
prospects, being finally, as pimishment for his 
boldness in opposing the dominant faction of the 
Missouri Democracy, turned out of the Senate, 
wherein he had passed nearly half his life. In- 
deed, his was one of those natures that show better 
in defeat than in victory. In his career there were 
many actions that must command our unqualified 
admiration; such were his hostility to the Nulli- 
fiers, wherein, taking into account his geographical 
location and his refusal to compromise, he did 
better than any other public man, not even except- 

Slavery in the New Territories 303 

ing Jackson and Webster; his belief in honest 
money; and his attitude toward all questions 
involving the honor or the maintenance and ex- 
tension of the Union. But in all these matters he 
was backed more or less heartily by his State, and 
he had served four terms in the federal Senate as 
the leading champion and representative, not 
alone of ^lissouri, but also of the entire West. 
When, however, the slavery question began to 
enter upon its final stage, Benton soon found him- 
self opposed to a large and growing faction of the 
Missouri Democracy, which increased so rapidly 
that it soon became dominant. But he never for 
an instant yielded his convictions, even when he 
saw the ground being thus cut from under his feet, 
fighting for the right as sturdily as ever, facing his 
fate fearlessly, and going down without a murmur. 
The contrast between the conduct toward the 
slavery disunionists of this Democrat from a slave- 
holding State, with a hostile majority at home 
against him, and the conduct of Webster, a Whig, 
enthusiastically backed by his own free State, in 
the same issue, is a painful one for the latter. In- 
deed, on any moral point, Benton need have no 
cause to fear comparison with any of his great 
rivals in the political arena. During his career, 
the United States Senate was perhaps the most 
influential, and certainly the ablest legislative body 
in the world; and after Jackson's presidency 

304 Thomas Hart Benton 

came to an end the really great statesmen 
and political leaders of the country were to be 
foimd in it, and not in the executive chair. The 
period during which the great Missourian was so 
prominent a figure in our politics, and which lasted 
up to the time of the Civil War, might very appro- 
priately be known in our history as the time of the 
supremacy of the Senate. Such senators as Ben- 
ton, Webster, Clay, and Calhoun, and later on 
Douglas, Seward, and Sumner, fairly towered 
above presidents like the obscure Southerners, 
Tyler and Polk, or the truckling, time-serving 
Northern politicians, Pierce and Buchanan. Dur- 
ing the long interval coming between the two 
heroic ages of American history, — the age of Wash- 
ington and Franklin, and the age of Lincoln and 
Grant, — it was but rarely that the nation gave its 
greatest gift to its best or its greatest son. 

Benton had come into the Senate at the same 
time that Missouri was admitted into the Union, 
with thanks, therefore, to the same measure, the 
Missouri Compromise bill. This shut out slavery 
from all territory north of the line of 36° 30', and 
did not make it obligatory even where it was per- 
missible ; and the immediate cause of Benton's 
downfall was his courage and persistency in de- 
fending the terms of this compromise from the 
attacks of the Southern slavery extensionists and 
disunionists. The pro-slavery feeling was running 

Slavery in the New Territories 305 

ever higher and higher throughout the South ; and 
his stand on this question aroused the most furious 
anger among a constantly increasing number of 
his constituents, and made him the target for 
bitter and savage assaults on the part of his foes, 
the spirit of hostility against him being carried to 
such length as finally almost to involve him in an 
open brawl on the floor of the Senate with one of 
his colleagues, Foote, who, like his fellow fire- 
eaters, found that Benton was not a man who 
could be bullied. Indeed, his iron will and mag- 
nificent physique both fitted him admirably for 
such a contest against odds, and he seems to have 
entered into it with a positive zest. 

The political Abolitionists having put Polk in 
power, their action bore fruit after its kind, and 
very soon the question had to be faced, as to what 
should be done with the immense tracts of terri- 
tory conquered from Mexico, Benton opposed, as 
being needless and harmful, the Wilmot Proviso, 
which forbade the introduction of slavery into any 
part of the territory so acquired. He argued, and 
produced in evidence the laws and Constitution of 
Mexico, that the soil of California and ^Mexico was 
already free, and that as slavery would certainly 
never be, and indeed could never be, introduced 
into either territory, the agitation of the question 
could only result in harm. Calhoim and the other 
extreme slavery leaders welcomed the discussion 

3o6 Thomas Hart Benton 

over this proviso, which led Benton to remark that 
the AboHtionists and the NulHfiers were necessary 
to each other, — the two blades of a pair of shears, 
neither of which could cut until they were joined 

When Calhoun introduced his famous resolutions 
declaring that Congress had no power to interfere 
with slavery in the territories, and therefore no 
power to prevent the admission of new States ex- 
cept on the condition of their prohibiting slavery 
within their limits, Benton promptly and strongly 
opposed them as being firebrands needlessly thrown 
to inflame the passions of the extremists, and, 
moreover, as being disunionist in tendency. The 
following is his own account of what then took 
place : " Mr. Calhoim said he had expected the sup- 
port of Mr. Benton 'as the representative of a 
slaveholding State.' Mr. Benton answered that 
it was impossible that he could have expected such 
a thing. ' Then,' said Mr. Calhoun, ' I shall know 
where to find that gentleman.' To which Air. Ben- 
ton said: ' I shall be foimd in the right place, — on 
the side of my country and the Union.' This an- 
swer, given on that day and on the spot, is one of 
the incidents of his life which Mr. Benton will wish 
posterity to remember." We can easily pardon 
the vanity which wishes and hopes that such an 
answer, given under such conditions, may be re- 
membered. Indeed, Benton's attitude through- 

Slavery in the New Territories 307 

out all this period should never be forgotten ; and 
the words he spoke in answer to Calhoun marked 
him as the leader among those Southerners who 
held the nation above any section thereof, even 
their own, and whose courage and self-sacrifice in 
the cause of the Union entitled them to more praise 
than by right belongs to any equal number of 
Northerners; those Southerners who in the Civil 
War furnished Farragut, Thomas, Bristow, and 
countless others as loyal as they were brave. The 
effect of Benton's teachings and the still remaining 
influence of his intense personality did more than 
aught else to keep Missouri within the Union, when 
her sister States went out of it. 

Benton always regarded much of the slavery 
agitation in the South as being political in char- 
acter, and the result of the schemes of ambitious 
and unscrupulous leaders. He believed that Cal- 
houn had introduced a set of resolutions that were 
totally tmcalled for, simply for the purpose of car- 
rying a question to the slave States on which they 
could be formed into a unit against the free States ; 
and there is much to be said in support of his view. 
Certainly the resolutions mark the beginning of the 
first great slavery agitation throughout the South- 
em States, which was engineered and guided for 
their own ends by politicians like Jefferson Davis. 
These resolutions were absolutely inconsistent with 
many of Calhoiin's previous declarations ; and that 

3o8 Thomas Hart Benton 

fact was also sharply commented on by Benton in 
his speeches and writings. He also criticized with 
caustic severity Calhoun's statements that he 
wished to save the Union by forcing the North to 
take a position so agreeable to the South as to 
make the latter willing not to separate . He showed 
that Calhoun's proposed "constitutional" and 
"peaceable" methods of bringing this about by 
prohibiting commercial intercourse between the' 
two sections would themselves be flagrant breaches 
of the Constitution and acts of disunion, — all the 
more so as it was proposed to discriminate in favor 
of the Northwest as against the Northeast. Cal- 
houn wished to bring about a convention of the 
Southern States, in order to secure the necessary 
imity of action ; and one of the main obstacles to 
the success of the plan was Missouri's refusal to 
take part in it. Great efforts were made to win 
her over, and to beat down Benton ; the extreme 
pro-slavery men honoring him with a hatred more 
intense than that they harbored toward any North- 
erner. Some of Calhoun's recent biographers have 
credited him with being really a Union man at 
heart. It seems absolutely impossible that this 
could have been the case ; and the supposition is 
certainly not compatible with the belief that he 
retained his right senses. Benton characterizes 
his system of slavery agitation, very truthfully, as 
being one "to force issues upon the North under 

Slavery in the New Territories 309 

the pretext of self-defense, and to sectionalize the 
South, preparatory to disunion, through the in- 
strumentaHty of sectional conventions, composed 
wholly of delegates from the slaveholding States." 

When the question of the admission of Oregon 
came up, Calhotm attempted to apply to it a 
dogma wholly at variance with all his former posi- 
tions on the subject. This was the theory of the 
self -extension of the slavery part of the Constitu- 
tion to the territories; that is, he held that the 
exclusion of slavery from any part of the new ter- 
ritory was itself a subversion of the Constitution. 
Such a dogma was so monstrous in character, so 
illogical, so inconsistent with all his former theo- 
ries, and so absolutely incompatible with the pres- 
ervation of the Union, that it renders it impossible 
to believe that his asseverations of devotion to the 
latter were uttered honestly or in good faith. Most 
modem readers will agree with Benton that he 
deliberately worked to bring about secession. 

Meanwhile the ]\Iissourian had gained an ally of 
his own stamp in the Senate. This was Houston, 
from the new State of Texas, who represented in 
that State, like Andrew Jackson in Tennessee, and 
Benton himself in Missouri, the old Nationalist 
Democracy, which held the preservation of the 
Union dear above all other things. Houston was 
a man after Benton's own heart, and was thor- 
oughly Jacksonian in type. He was rough, honest, 

3IO Thomas Hart Benton 

and fearless, a devoted friend and a vengeful 
enemy, and he promised that combination of stub- 
bom courage and capacity of devotion to an ideal 
that renders a man an invaluable ally in a fight 
against odds for principle. 

After much discussion and amendment, the 
Oregon bill, containing a radical anti-slavery 
clause, passed both houses and became a law in 
spite of the violent opposition of some of the 
Southerners, headed by Calhoun, who announced 
that the great strife between the North and the 
South was ended, and that the time had come for 
the South to show that, though she prized the 
Union, yet there were matters which she regarded 
as of greater importance than its preservation. 
His ire was most fiercely excited by the action of 
Benton and Houston in supporting the bill, and 
after his return to South Carolina he denounced 
them by name as traitors to the South, — "a 
denunciation," says Benton, "which they took 
for a distinction ; as what he called treason to the 
South they knew to be allegiance to the Union." 
When it was proposed to extend by bill the Consti- 
tution of the United States into the territories, 
with a view to carrying slavery into California, 
Utah, and New Mexico, Benton was again opposed 
to Calhoun. As a matter of course, too, he was 
the stoutest opponent of the Southern convention 
and other similar disunion movements that were 

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Slavery in the New Territories 311 

beginning to take shape throughout the South, 
instigated by the two rank secession States of 
South Carolina and Mississippi. 

Most of the momentous questions springing out 
of the war with Mexico were left by Polk as lega- 
cies to his successor, when the former went out of 
office, after an administration that Benton criti- 
cized with extreme sharpness, although he tried to 
shield the President by casting the blame for his 
actions upon his cabinet advisers ; characterizing 
the ^Mexican War as one of "speculation and in- 
trigue," and as the "great blot" of his four years' 
term of office, and ridiculing the theory that we 
were acting in self-defense, or that our soil had 
been invaded. In 1848 the Democrats nominated 
Cass, a Northern pro-slavery politician of mod- 
erate abilities, and the Whigs put up and elected 
old Zachary Taylor, the rough frontier soldier and 
Louisiana slaveholder. The political Abolitionists 
again took a hand in the contest, but this time 
abandoned their abolition theories, substituting 
instead thereof the prohibition of slavery in the 
new territories. They derived much additional 
importance from their alliance with a disap- 
pointed politician in the pivotal State of New 
York; and in this case, in sharp contrast to the 
result in 1844, their actions worked good, and not 
evil. Van Buren, chagrined and angered by the 
way he was treated by the regular Democrats, 

312 Thomas Hart Benton 

organized a revolt against them, and used the 
banner of the new Free Soil party as one under 
which to rally his adherents. This movement was 
of consequence mainly in New York, and there it 
soon became little more than a mere fight between 
the two sections of the Democracy. Benton him- 
self visited this all-important State to try to patch 
up matters, but he fortimately failed. The fac- 
tions proved very nearly equal in strength; and 
as a consequence the Whigs carried the State and 
the election, and once more held the reins of gov- 

When a Louisiana slaveholder was thus installed 
in the White House, the extreme Southern men 
may have thought that they were sure of him as 
an ally in their fight against freedom. But, if so, 
they soon found they had reckoned without their 
host, for the election of Taylor affords a curious, 
though not solitary, instance in which the Amer- 
ican people builded better than they knew in 
choosing a chief executive. Nothing whatever 
was known of his political theories, and the Whigs 
nominated him simply because he was a successful 
soldier, likely to take the popular fancy. But 
once elected he turned out to have the very quali- 
ties we then most needed in a president, — a stout 
heart, shrewd common sense, and thorough-going 
devotion to the Union. Although with widely 
different training from Benton, and nominally dif- 

Slavery in the New Territories 313 

fering from him in politics, he was yet of the same 
stamp both in character and principles ; both were 
Union Southerners, not in the least afraid of 
openly asserting their opinions, and, if necessary, 
of making them good by their acts. In his first 
and only annual message, Taylor expressed, upon 
all the important questions of the day, views that 
w^ere exactly similar to those advanced before or 
after by Benton himself in the Senate ; and he used 
similar emphasis and plainness of speech. He 
declared the Union to be the greatest of blessings, 
which he would maintain in every way against 
whatever dangers might threaten it; he advised 
the admission of California, which wished to come 
in as a free State ; he thought that the Territories 
of Utah and New Mexico should be left as they 
were ; and he warned the Texans, who were blus- 
tering about certain alleged rights to New Mexican 
soil, and threatening to take them by force of 
arms, that this could not be permitted, and that 
the matter would have to be settled by the judicial 
authority of the United States. Benton heartily 
indorsed the message. Naturally, it was bitterly 
assailed by the disunionists imder Calhoim; and 
even Clay, who entirely lacked Taylor's backbone, 
was dissatisfied with it as being too extreme in 
tone, and conflicting with his proposed compro- 
mise measures. These same compromise measures 
brought the Kentucky leader into conflict with 

314 Thomas Hart Benton 

Benton also, especially on the point of their inter- 
fering with the immediate admission of California 
into the Union. 

This is not the place to discuss Clay's proposed 
compromise, which was not satisfactory to the ex- 
treme Southerners, and still less so to the Union- 
ists and anti-slavery men. It consisted of five 
different parts, relating to the recovery of fugitive 
slaves, the suppression of the slave trade in the 
District of Columbia, the admission of California 
as a State, and the territorial condition of Utah 
and New Mexico. Benton opposed it as mixing 
up incongruous measures ; as being unjust to Cali- 
fornia, inasmuch as it confoimded the question of 
her admission with the general slavery agitation in 
the United States ; and above all as being a con- 
cession or capitulation to the spirit of disunion 
and secession, and therefore a repetition of the 
error of 1833. Benton always desired to meet 
and check any disunion movement at the very 
outset, and, if he had had his way, would have 
carried matters with a high hand whenever it came 
to dealing with threats of such a proceeding ; and 
therein he was perfectly right. In regard to the 
proposed compromise he believed in dealing with 
each question as it arose, beginning with the ad- 
mission of California, and refusing to have any 
compromise at all with those who threatened 

Slavery in the New Territories 315 

The slavery extensionists endeavored to have 
the Missouri compromise Hne stretched on to the 
Pacific. Benton, avowing his behef that slavery- 
was an evil, opposed this, and gave his reasons 
why he did not wish to see the line which had 
been used to divide free and slave soil in the 
French or Louisiana purchase extended into the 
lands won from Mexico. Slavery had always ex- 
isted in Louisiana, while it had been long abol- 
ished in Mexico. The Missouri compromise line, 
extending to New Mexico and California, though 
astronomically the same as that in Louisiana, 
would be politically directly the opposite. One 
went through a territory all slave, and made one 
half free ; the other would go through territory all 
free, and make one half slave. In fact, Benton, 
as he grew older, unlike most of his compatriots, 
gained a clearer insight into the effects of slavery. 
This was shown in his comments upon Calhoun's 
statement, made in the latter' s last speech, in 
reference to the imequal development of the North 
and South; which, Benton said, was partly owing 
to the existence of " slavery itself, which he (Cal- 
houn) was so anxious to extend." It was in this 
same speech that Calhoun hinted at his plan for a 
dual executive, — one president from the free and 
one from the slave States, — a childish proposi- 
tion, that Benton properly treated as a simple 

3i6 Thomas Hart Benton 

In his speech against the compromise, Benton 
discussed it, section by section, with great force, 
and with his usual blunt truthfulness. His main 
coimt was the injustice done to California by de- 
laying her admittance, and making it dependent 
upon other issues ; but he made almost as strong 
a point against the effort to settle the claims of 
Texas to New Mexican territory. The Texan 
threats to use force he treated with cavalier indif- 
ference, remarking that as long as New Mexico 
was a territory, and therefore belonged to the 
United States, any controversy with her was a 
controversy with the federal government, which 
would know how to play her part by "defending 
her territory from invasion, and her people from 
violence," — a hint that had a salutary effect upon 
the Texans; in fact the disunionists, generally, 
were not apt to do much more than threaten while 
a Whig like Taylor was backed up by a Democrat 
like Benton. He also pointed out that it was not 
necessary, however desirable, to make a compact 
with Texas about the boimdaries, as they could 
always be settled, whether she wished it or not, by 
a suit before the Supreme Court ; and again inti- 
mated that a little show of firmness would remove 
all danger of a collision. "As to an3rthing that 
Texas or New Mexico may do in taking or relin- 
quishing possession, that is all moonshine. New 
Mexico is the property of the United States, and 

Slavery in the New Territories 317 

she cannot dispose of herself or any part of her- 
self, nor can Texas take her or any part of her." 
He showed a thorough acquaintance with New 
Mexican geography and history, and alluded to 
the bills he had already brought in, in 1844 and 
1850, to establish a divisional line between the 
territory and Texas, on the longitude first of one 
hundred and then of one hundred and two degrees. 
He recalled the fact that before the annexation of 
Texas, and in a bill proposing to settle all ques- 
tions with her, he had inserted a provision forever 
prohibiting slavery in all parts of the annexed 
territory lying west of the hundredth degree of 
longitude. He also took the opportunity of for- 
mally stating his opposition to any form of slavery 
extension, remarking that it was no new idea with 
him, but dated from the time when in 1804, while 
a law student in Tennessee, he had studied Black- 
stone as edited by the learned Virginian, Judge 
Tucker, who, in an appendix, treated of, and 
totally condemned, black slavery in the United 
States. The very difficulty, or, as he deemed it, 
the impossibility, of getting rid of the evil, made 
Benton all the more determined in opposing its 
extension. "The incurabiHty of the evil is the 
greatest objection to the extension of slavery. If 
it is wrong for the legislator to inflict an evil 
which can be cured, how much more to inflict one 
that is incurable, and against the will of the 

3i8 Thomas Hart Benton 

people who are to endure it forever ! I quarrel with 
no one for deeming slavery a blessing ; I deem it 
an evil, and would neither adopt it nor impose it 
on others." The solution of the problem of dis- 
posing of existent slavery, he confessed, seemed 
beyond human wisdom; but "there is a wisdom 
above human, and to that we must look. In the 
mean time, do not extend the evil." In justifica- 
tion of his position he quoted previous actions of 
Congress, done under the lead of Southern men, in 
refusing again and again, down to 1807, to allow 
slavery to be introduced into Indiana, when that 
commtmity petitioned for it. He also repudiated 
strongly the whole spirit in which Clay had gotten 
up his compromise bill, stating that he did not 
believe in geographical parties ; that he knew no 
North and no South, and utterly rejected any 
slavery compromises except those to be fottnd in 
the Constitution. Altogether it was a great 
speech, and his opposition was one of the main 
causes of the defeat of Clay's measure. 

Benton's position on the Wilmot Proviso is 
worth giving in his own words: "That measure 
was rejected again as heretofore, and by the votes 
of those who were opposed to extending slavery 
into the territories, because it was unnecessary and 
inoperative, — irritating to the slave States, with- 
out benefit to the free States, a mere work of 
supererogation, of which the fruit was discontent. 

Slavery in the New Territories 319 

It was rejected, not on the principle of non-inter- 
vention; not on the principle of leaving to the 
territories to do as they pleased on the question, 
but because there had been inter\^ention ; because 
Mexican law and constitution had intervened, 
had abolished slavery by law in those dominions ; 
wliich law would remain in force until repealed by 
Congress. All that the opponents to the exten- 
sion of slaver}^ had to do, then, was to do nothing. 
And they did nothing." 

Before California was admitted into the Union 
old Zachary Taylor had died, leaving behind him 
a name that will always be remembered among our 
people. He was neither a great statesman nor yet 
a great commander ; but he was an able and gal- 
lant soldier, a loyal and upright public servant, 
and a most kindly, honest, and truthful man. 
His death was a greater loss to the coimtry than 
perhaps the people ever knew. 

The bill for the admission of California as a 
free State, heartily sustained by Benton, was made 
a test question by the Southern disimionists ; but 
on this occasion they were thoroughly beaten. 
The great struggle was made over a proposition to 
limit the southern boimdary of the State to the 
line of 36° 30', and to extend the Missouri line 
through to the Pacific, so as to authorize the ex- 
istence of slavery in all the territory south of that 
latitude. This was defeated by a vote of thirty- 

320 Thomas Hart Benton 

two to twenty-four. Not only Benton, but also 
Spruance and Wales of Delaware, and Underwood 
of Kentucky, joined with the representatives from 
the free States in opposing it. Had it not been 
for the action of these four slave state senators in 
leaving their associates, the vote would have been 
tie; and their courage and patriotism should be 
remembered. The bill was then passed by a vote 
of thirty-four to eighteen, two other Southern sen- 
ators, Houston of Texas and Bell of Tennessee, 
voting for it, in addition to the four already men- 
tioned. After its passage, ten of the senators who 
had voted against it, including, of course, Jefferson 
Davis, and also Benton's own colleague from Mis- 
souri, Atchison, joined in a protest against what 
had been done, ending with a thinly veiled threat 
of disunion, — "dissolution of the confederacy," 
as they styled it. Benton stoutly and successfully 
opposed allowing this protest to be received or 
entered upon the journal, condemning it, with a 
frankness that very few of his fellow senators 
would have dared to copy, as being sectional and 
disunion in form, and therefore unfit even for 
preservation on the records. 

When the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was 
passed, through the help of some Northern votes, 
Benton refused to support it; and this was the 
last act of importance that he performed as United 
States senator. He had risen and grown steadily 

Slavery in the New Territories 321 

all through his long term of service ; and during 
its last period he did greater service to the nation 
than any of his fellow senators. Compare his 
stand against the slavery extremists and dis- 
imionists, such as Calhoun, with the position of 
Webster at the time of his famous seventh of 
March speech, or with that of Clay when he 
brought in his compromise bill! In fact, as the 
times grew more troublesome, he grew steadily 
better able to do good work in them. 

It is this fact of growth that especially marks 
his career. No other American statesman, except 
John Quincy Adams, — certainly neither of his 
great contemporaries, Webster and Clay, — kept 
doing continually better work throughout his term 
of public serv^ice, or showed himself able to rise to 
a higher level at the very end than at the begin- 
ning. Yet such was the case with Benton. He 
always rose to meet a really great emergency ; and 
his services to the nation grew steadily in impor- 
tance to the very close of his life. Whereas Web- 
ster and Clay passed their zenith and fell, he kept 
rising all the time. 




BENTON had now finished his fifth and last 
term in the United States Senate. He had 
been chosen senator from IMissouri before 
she was admitted into the Union, and had re- 
mained such for thirty years. During all that 
time the State had been steadily Democratic, the 
large Whig minority never being able to get con- 
trol ; but on the question of the extension of slav- 
ery the dominant party itself began at this time to 
break into two factions. Hitherto Benton had 
been the undisputed leader of the Democracy, but 
now the pro-slavery and disimionist Democrats 
organized a very powerful opposition to him ; while 
he still received the enthusiastic support of an 
almost equally numerous body of followers. Al- 
though the extension of slavery and the preserva- 
tion of the Union were the two chief and vital 
points on which the factions differed, yet the 
names by which they designated each other were 
adopted in consequence of their differing also on a 
third and only less important one. Benton was 
such a firm believer in hard money, and a cur- 
rency of gold and silver, as to have received the 
nickname of " Old Bullion," and his followers were 


The Losing Fight 323 

called "hards;" his opponents were soft money- 
men, in addition to being secessionists and pro- 
slavery fanatics, and took the name of "softs." 
The principles of the Bentonians were right, and 
those of their opponents wrong; but for all that 
the latter gradually gained upon the former. 
Finally, in the midst of Benton's fight against 
the extension of slavery into the territories, the 
"softs" carried the Missouri legislature, and 
passed a series of resolutions based upon those 
of Calhoun. These were most truculent and dis- 
loyal in tone, demanding that slavery be per- 
mitted to exist in all the new States to be ad- 
mitted, and instructing their senators to vote 
accordingly. These resolutions were presented 
in the Senate by Benton's colleague from Missouri, 
Atchison, who was rather hostile to him and to 
every other friend of the Union, and later on 
achieved disreputable notoriety as a leader of the 
"border ruffians" in the affrays on the soil of 
Kansas. Benton at once picked up the glove that 
had been flung do^Ti. He utterly refused to obey 
the resolutions, denounced them savagely as being 
treasonable and offensive in the highest degree, 
asserted that they did not express the true opinions 
of the voters of the State, and appealed from the 
Missouri legislature to the Missouri people. 

The issue between the two sides was now sharply 
brought out, and as this took place toward the 

324 Thomas Hart Benton 

end of Benton's fifth term, the struggle to com- 
mand the legislature which should reelect him or 
give him a successor was most exciting. Benton 
himself took an active part in the preliminary can- 
vass. Neither faction was able to get a majority of 
the members, and the deadlock was finally broken 
by the " softs " coming to the support of the Whigs, 
and helping them to elect Benton's rival. Thus, 
after serving his State faithfully and ably for 
thirty years, he was finally turned out of the posi- 
tion which he so worthily filled, because he had 
committed the crime of standing loyally by the 

But the stout old Nationalist was not in the 
least cast down or even shaken by his defeat. He 
kept up the fight as bitterly as ever, though now 
an old man, and in 1852 went to Congress as a 
representative Union Democrat. For thirty years 
he had been the autocrat of Missouri politics, and 
had at one time wielded throughout his own State 
a power as great as Calhoun possessed in South 
Carolina ; greater than Webster held in Massachu- 
setts, or Clay in Kentucky. But the tide which had 
so long flowed in his favor now turned, and for 
the few remaining years of his life set as steadily 
against him; yet at no time of his long public 
career did he stand forth as honorably and promi- 
nently as during his last days, when he was show- 
ing so stem a front to his victorious foes. His love 

The Losing Fight 325 

for work was so great that, when out of the Senate, 
he did not find even his incessant poHtical occupa- 
tions enough for him. During his contest for the 
senatorship his hands had been full, for he had 
spoken again and again throughout the entire 
State, his carefully prepared speeches showing 
remarkable power, and filled with scathing denun- 
ciation and invective, and biting and caustic sar- 
casm. But so soon as his defeat was assured he 
turned his attention immediately to literature, 
setting to work on his great " Thirty Years' View," 
of which the first volume was printed during his 
congressional term, and was quoted on the floor 
of the House, both by his friends and foes, during 
the debates in which he was taking part. 

In 1852, when he was elected to Congress as a 
member of the House, he had supported Pierce for 
the presidency against Scott, a good general, but 
otherwise a wholly absurd and flatulent personage, 
who was the Whig nominee. But it soon became 
evident that Pierce was completely under the con- 
trol of the secession wing of the party, and Benton 
thereafterward treated him with contemptuous 
hostility, despising him, and seeing him exactly as 
he was, — a small politician, of low capacity and 
mean surroundings, proud to act as the serv^ile 
tool of men worse than himself but also stronger 
and abler. He was ever ready to do any work 
the slavery leaders set him, and to act as their 

326 Thomas Hart Benton 

attorney in arguing in its favor, — to quote Ben- 
ton's phrase, with "undaunted mendacity, moral 
callosity [and] mental obliquity." His last message 
to Congress in the slavery interest Benton spoke 
of as characteristic, and exemplifying "all the 
modes of conveying untruths which long ages have 
invented, — direct assertion, fallacious inference, 
equivocal phrase, and false innuendo," As he 
entertained such views of the head of the Demo- 
cratic party, and as this same head was in hearty 
accord with, and a good representative of the mass 
of the rank and file politicians of the organization, 
it is small wonder that Benton foimd himself, on 
every important question that came up while he 
was in Congress, opposed to the mass of his fellow 

Although the great questions to which he de- 
voted himself, while a representative in Congress, 
were those relating to the extension of slavery, yet 
he also found time to give to certain other sub- 
jects, working as usual with indomitable energy, 
and retaining his marvelous memory to the last. 
The idea of desponding or giving up, for any cause 
whatever, simply never entered his head. When 
his house, containing all the manuscript and 
papers of the nearly completed second volume of 
his "Thirty Years' View," was burned up, he did 
not delay a minute in recommencing his work, and 
the very next day spoke in Congress as usual. 

The Losing Fight 327 

His speeches were showing a steady improve- 
ment ; they were not masterpieces, even at the last, 
but in every way, especially in style, they were 
infinitely superior to those that he had made on his 
first entrance into public life. Of cotirse, a man 
w^ith his intense pride in his coimtry, and charac- 
terized by such a desire to see her become greater 
and more united in every way, would naturally 
support the proposal to build a Pacific Railroad, 
and accordingly he argued for it at great length 
and with force and justness, at the same time 
opposing the propositions to build northern and 
southern trans-continental roads as substitutes for 
the proposed central route. He showed the char- 
acter of the land through which the road would 
run, and the easiness of the passes across the 
Rockies, and prophesied a rapid increase of States 
as one of the results attendant upon its building. 
At the end of his speech he made an elaborate 
comparison of the courses of trade and commerce 
at different periods of the world's history, and 
showed that, as we had reached the Pacific coast, 
we had finally taken a position where our trade 
with the Oriental kingdoms, backed up by our 
own enormous internal development, rendered us 
more than ever independent of Europe. 

In another speech he discussed very intelli- 
gently, and with his usual complete command of 
the facts of the case, some of the contemporary 

328 Thomas Hart Benton 

Indian uprisings in the far West. He attacked our 
whole Indian policy, showing that the corruption 
of the Indian agents, coupled with astute aggres- 
sions, were the usual causes of our wars. Further, 
he criticized our regular troops as being unfit to 
cope with the savages, and advocated the forma- 
tion of companies of frontier rangers, who should 
also be settlers, and shoidd receive from the gov- 
ernment a bounty in land as part reward for their 
service. Many of his remarks on our Indian policy 
apply quite as well now as they did then, and our 
regular soldiers are certainly not the proper oppo- 
nents for the Indians ; but Benton's military views 
were, as a rule, the reverse of sensible, and we 
cannot accept his denunciations of the army, and 
especially of West Point, as being worth serious 
consideration. His belief in the marvelous efficacy 
of a raw militia, especially as regards war with 
European powers, was childish, and much of his 
feeling against the regular army officer was dic- 
tated by jealousy. He was, by all the peculiari- 
ties of his habits and education, utterly unfitted 
for military command; and it would have been 
an evil day for his good fame if Polk had suc- 
ceeded in having him made lieutenant-general of 
our forces in Mexico. 

His remarks upon our Indian policy were not 
the only ones he made that woidd bear study even 
yet. Certain of his speeches upon the different 

The Losing Fight 329 

land bounty and pension bills, passed nominally in 
the interests of veterans, but really through dema- 
gogy and the machination of speculators, could be 
read with profit by not a few congressmen at the 
present time. One of his utterances was: " I am 
a friend to old soldiers . . . but not to old specu- 
lators;" and while favoring proper pension bills 
he showed the foolishness and criminality of cer- 
tain others very clearly, together with the fact 
that, when passed long after the services have been 
rendered, they always fail to relieve the real suf- 
ferers, and work in the interests of unworthy out- 

But his great speech, and one of the best and 
greatest that he ever made, was the one in opposi- 
tion to the Kansas-Nebraska bill, which was being 
pushed through Congress by the fire-eaters and 
their Northern pro-slavery followers. His own 
position upon the measure was best expressed by 
the words he used in commenting on the remarks 
of a Georgian member: "He votes as a Southern 
man, and votes sectionally; I also am a Southern 
man, but vote nationally on national questions." 

The l\Iissouri Compromise of 1820 had expressly 
abolished slavery in the territory out of which 
Kansas and Nebraska were carved. By the pro- 
posed bill this compromise was to be repealed, and 
the famous doctrine of non-intervention, or "squat- 
ter sovereignty," was to take its place, the people 

330 Thomas Hart Benton 

of each territory being allowed to choose for them- 
selves whether they did or did not wish slavery. 
Benton attacked the proposal with all the strength 
of his frank, open nature as "a bungling attempt 
to smuggle slavery into the territory, and through- 
out all the coimtry, up to the Canada line and out 
to the Rocky Mountains." He showed exhaust- 
ively the real nature of the original Missouri 
Compromise, which, as he said, was forced by the 
South upon the North, and which the South now 
proposed to repeal, that it might humiliate the 
North still further. The compromise of 1820 was, 
he justly contended, right ; it was like the original 
compromises of the Constitution, by which the 
slave States were admitted to the formation of 
the Union ; no greater concession of principle was 
involved in the one case than in the other ; and, 
had either compromise failed, the Union would not 
now be in existence. But the day when compro- 
mises had been necessary, or even harmless, had 
passed. The time had come when the extension 
of slavery was to be opposed in every constitu- 
tional way; and it was an outrage to propose to 
extend its domain by repealing all that part of a 
compromise measure which worked against it, 
when the South had already long taken advantage 
of such parts of the law as worked in its favor. 
Said Benton: "The South divided and took half, 
and now it will not do to claim the other half." 

The Losing Fight 331 

Exactly as a proposition to destroy the slavery 
compromises of the Constitution would be an open 
attempt to destroy the Union, so, he said, the 
attempt to abrogate the compromise of 1820 
would be a preparation for the same ending. " I 
have stood upon the Missouri Compromise for 
about thirty years, and mean to stand upon it to 
the end of my life. ... [It is] a binding covenant 
upon both parties, and the more so upon the South, 
as she imposed it." 

The squatter sovereignty theories of Douglas he 
treated with deserved ridicule, laughing at the idea 
that the territories were not the actual property of 
the nation, to be treated as the latter wished, and 
having none of the rights of sovereign states ; and 
he condemned even more severely the theory ad- 
vanced to the effect that Congress had no power to 
legislate on slavery in the territories. Thus, he 
pointed out that to admit any such theories was 
directly to reverse the principles upon which we 
had acted for seventy years in regard to the 
various territories that from time to time grew to 
such size as entitled them to come into the Union 
as States. After showing that there was no excuse 
for bringing in the bill on the plea of settling the 
slavery question, since there was not a foot of ter- 
ritory in the United States where the subject of 
slavery was not already settled by law, he closed 
with an earnest appeal against such an attempt to 

332 Thomas Hart Benton 

break up the Union and outrage the North by 
forcing slavery into a land where its existence was 
already forbidden by law. His speech exceeded 
the hour allotted to it, and he was allowed to go on 
only by the courtesy of a member from Illinois, 
who, when some of the Southerners protested 
against his being heard further, gave up part of his 
own time to the grand old Missourian, and asked 
the House to hear him, if only " as the oldest living 
man in Congress, the only man in Congress who 
was present at the passage of the Missouri Com- 
promise bill." Many a man at the North, ashamed 
and indignant at seeing the politicians of his own 
section cower at the crack of the Southern whip, 
felt a glow of sincere gratitude and admiration for 
the rugged Westerner, who so boldly bade defiance 
to the ruling slave party that held the reins not 
only in his own section, but also in his own State, 
and to oppose which was almost certain political 

The Gadsden treaty was also strongly opposed 
and condemned by Benton, who considered it to 
be part of a great scheme or movement in the in- 
terest of the slavery disunionists, of which he also 
believed the Kansas-Nebraska bill to be the first 
development, — the "thin end of the wedge." He 
opposed the acquirement even of the small piece of 
territory we were actually able to purchase from 
Mexico; and showed good grounds for his belief 

The Losing Fight 333 

that the administration, acting as usual only in 
the interest of the secessionists, had tried to get 
enough North-]\Iexican territory to form several 
new States, and had also attempted to purchase 
Cuba, both efforts being for the purpose of en- 
abling the South either to become again dominant 
in the Union or else to set up a separate confed- 
eracy of her own. For it must be kept in mind 
that Benton always believed that the Southern 
disunion movements were largely due to con- 
spiracies among ambitious politicians, who used 
the slavery question as a handle by which to in- 
fluence the mass of the people. This view has 
certainly more truth in it than it is now the 
fashion to admit. His objection to the actual 
treaty was mainly based on its having been done 
by the executive without the consent of the legis- 
lature, and he also criticized it for the secrecy with 
which it had been put through. In bringing 
forward the first objection, however, he was con- 
fronted with Jefferson's conduct in acquiring Lou- 
isiana, which he endeavored, not very successfully, 
to show had nothing in common with the actions of 
Pierce, who, he said, simply demanded a check 
from the House with which to complete a purchase 
undertaken on his own responsibility. 

Throughout his congressional term of service, 
Benton acted so as to deser\'e well of the Union as 
a whole, and most well of Missouri in particular. 

334 Thomas Hart Benton 

But he could not stem the tide of folly and mad- 
ness in this State, and was defeated when he was 
a candidate for reelection. The Whigs had now 
disappeared from the political arena, and the 
Know- Nothings were running through their short 
and crooked lease of life ; they foolishly nominated 
a third candidate in Benton's district, who drew off 
enough votes from him to enable his pro-slavery 
Democratic competitor to win. 

No sooner had he lost his seat in Congress than 
Benton, indefatigable as ever, set to work to finish 
his "Thirty Years' View," and produced the 
second volume in 1856, the year when he made 
his last attempt to regain his hold in politics, and 
to win Missouri back to the old Union standard. 
Although his own son-in-law, Fremont, the daring 
Western explorer, was running as the first presi- 
dential candidate ever nominated by the Repub- 
licans, the old partisan voted for the Democrat, 
Buchanan. He did not like Buchanan, consider- 
ing him weak and unsuitable, but the Republican 
party he believed to be entirely too sectional in 
character for him to give it his support. For 
governor there was a triangular fight, the Know- 
Nothings having nominated one candidate, the 
secessionist Democrats a second, while Benton 
himself ran as the choice of the Union Democracy. 
He was now seventy-four years old, but his mind 
was as vigorous as ever, and his iron will kept up 

The Losing Fight 335 

a frame that had hardly even yet begun to give 
way. During the course of the campaign he 
traveled throughout the State, going in all twelve 
hundred miles, and making forty speeches, each 
one of two or three hours' length. This was a 
remarkable feat for so old a man; indeed, it has 
very rarely been paralleled, except by Gladstone's 
recent performances. The vote was quite evenly 
divided between the three candidates ; but Benton 
came in third, and the extreme pro-slavery men 
carried the day. After this, during the few 
months of life he yet had left, he did not again 
mingle in the politics of Missouri. 

But in the days of his defeat at home, the regard 
and respect in which he was held in the other 
States, especially at the North, increased steadily; 
and in the fall of 1856 he made by request a lec- 
turing tour in New England, speaking on the dan- 
ger of the political situation and the imperative 
necessity of preserving the Union, which he now 
clearly saw to be gravely threatened. He was 
well received, for the North was learning to respect 
him, and he had gotten over his early hostility to 
New England, — a hostility originally shared by 
the whole West. The New Englanders were not 
yet aware, however, of the importance of the seces- 
sion movements, and paid little heed to the warn- 
ings that were to be so fully justified by the events 
of the next few years. But Benton, in spite of his 

336 Thomas Hart Benton 

great age, saw distinctly the changes that were 
taking place, and the dangers that were impend- 
ing, — an unusual thing for a man whose active life 
has already been lived out imder widely different 

He again turned his attention to literature, and 
produced another great work, the "Abridgment of 
the Debates of Congress from 1789 to 1856," in 
sixteen volumes, besides writing a valuable pam- 
phlet on the Dred Scott decision, which he severely 
criticized. The amount of labor all this required 
was immense, and his health completely gave way ; 
yet he continued working to the very end, dictat- 
ing the closing portion of the "Abridgment" in a 
whisper as he lay on his death-bed. When he 
once began to fail his advanced years made him 
succumb rapidly; and on April 10, 1858, he died, 
in the city of Washington. As soon as the news 
reached Missouri, a great revulsion of feeling took 
place, and all classes of the people united to do 
honor to the memory of the dead statesman, real- 
izing that they had lost a man who towered head 
and shoulders above both friends and foes. The 
body was taken to St. Louis, and after lying in 
state was buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, more 
than forty thousand people witnessing the fimeral. 
All the public buildings were draped in mourning ; 
all places of business were closed, and the flags 
everywhere were at half-mast. Thus at the very 

The Losing Fight 337 

end the great city of the West at last again paid 
fit homage to the West's mightiest son. 

Benton's most important writings are those 
mentioned above. The "Thirty Years' View" 
("a history of the working of the American gov- 
ernment for thirty years, from 1820 to 1850") will 
always be indispensable to every student of Amer- 
ican history. It deals with the deeds of both 
houses of Congress, and of some of the higher 
federal officials during his thirty years' term of 
service in the Senate, and is valuable alike for the 
original data it contains, and because it is so com- 
plete a record of our public life at that time. The 
book is also remarkable for its courteous and 
equable tone, even toward bitter personal and 
political enemies. It shows a vanity on the part 
of the author that is too frank and free from malice 
to be anything but amusing; the style is rather 
ponderous, and the English not always good, for 
Benton began life, and, in fact, largely passed it, 
in an age of ornate periods, when grandiloquence 
was considered more essential than grammar. In 
much of the Mississippi valley the people had their 
own canons of literary taste ; indeed, in a recent book 
by one of Benton's admirers, there is a fond allusion 
to his statement, anent the expunging resolution, 
that "solitary and alone" he had set the ball in 
motion, the pleonasm being evidently looked upon 
in the light of a rather fine oratorical outburst. 


338 Thomas Hart Benton 

"The Abridgment of the Debates of Congress 
from 1789 to 1856" he was only able to bring 
down to 1850. Sixteen volumes were published. 
It was a compilation needing infinite labor, and is 
invaluable to the historian. While in the midst 
of the vast work he also found time to write his 
"Examination of the Dred Scott Case," in so far 
as it decided the Missouri Compromise law to be 
imconstitutional, and asserted the self-extension of 
the Constitution into the territories, carrying slav- 
ery with it, — the decision in this case promulgated 
by Judge Taney, of tmhappy fame, having been 
the last step taken in the interests of slavery and 
for the overthrow of freedom. The pamphlet con- 
tained nearly two himdred pages, and showed, as 
was invariably the case with anything Benton did, 
the effects of laborious research and wide histori- 
cal and legal learning. His simiming up was, 
"that the decision conflicts with the uniform 
action of all the departments of the federal gov- 
ernment from its foundation to the present time, 
and cannot be accepted as a rule to govern Con- 
gress and the people, without severing that act and 
admitting the political supremacy of the court and 
accepting an altered constitution from its hands, 
and taking a new and portentous point of depar- 
ture in the working of the government." He 
denoimced the new party theories of the Democ- 
racy, which had abandoned the old belief of the 

The Losing Fight 339 

founders of the republic, that Congress had power 
to legislate upon slavery in territories, and which 
had gone on "from the abrogation of the Missouri 
Compromise, which saved the Union, to squatter 
sovereignty, which killed the compromise, and 
thence to the decisions of the Supreme Court, 
which kill both." In closing he touched briefly 
on the history of the pro-slavery agitation. " Up 
to Mr. Pierce's administration the plan had been 
defensive, that is to say, to make the secession of 
the South a measure of self-defense against the 
abolition encroachments and crusades of the 
North. In the time of Mr. Pierce the plan became 
offensive, that is to say, to commence the expan- 
sion of slavery, and the acquisition of territory to 
spread it over, so as to overpower the North with 
new slave States, and drive them out of the 

Union The rising in the free States, in 

consequence of the abrogation of the Missouri 
Compromise, checked these schemes, and limited 
the success of the disunionists to the revival of the 
agitation which enables them to wield the South 
against the North in all the federal elections and 
all federal legislation. Accidents and events have 
given the party a strange preeminence, — under 
Jackson's administration proclaimed for treason; 
since at the head of the government and of the 
Democratic party. The death of Harrison, and 
the accession of Tyler, was their first great lift ; the 

340 Thomas Hart Benton 

election of Mr. Pierce was their culminating point." 
This was the last protest of the last of the old 
Jacksonian leaders against that new generation 
of Democrats whose delight it had become to bow 
down to strange gods. 

In his private life Benton's relations were of the 
pleasantest. He was a religious man, although, 
like his great political chief, he could on occasions 
swear roundly. He was rigidly moral, and he was 
too fond of work ever to make social life a busi- 
ness. But he liked small dinners, with just a few 
intimate friends or noted and brilliant public men, 
and always shone at such an entertainment. Al- 
though he had not traveled much, he gave the 
impression of having done so, by reason of his 
wide reading, and because he always made a point 
of knowing all explorers, especially those who had 
penetrated our great western wilds. His geo- 
graphical knowledge was wonderful ; and his good 
nature, as well as his delight in work for work's 
sake, made him of more use than any library of 
reference, if his friends needed information upon 
some abstruse matter, — Webster himself acknowl- 
edging his indebtedness to him on one occasion, 
and being the authority for the statement that 
Benton knew more political facts than any other 
man he had ever met, even than John Quincy 
Adams, and possessed a wonderful fund of general 
knowledge. Although very gentle in his dealings 

The Losing Fight 341 

with those for whom he cared, Benton originally 
was rather quarrelsome and revengeful in charac- 
ter. His personal and political prejudices were 
bitter, and he denounced his enemies freely in 
public and from the stump ; yet he always declined 
to take part in joint political debates, on accoimt 
of the personal discourtesy with which they were 
usually conducted. He gave his whole time to 
public life, rarely or never attending to his law 
practice after he had fairly entered the political 

Benton was one of those who were present and 
escaped death at the time of the terrible accident 
on board the Princeton, during Tyler's administra- 
tion, when the bursting of her great gun killed so 
many prominent men. Benton was saved owing 
to the fact that, characteristically enough, he had 
stepped to one side the better to note the marks- 
manship of the gunner. Ex-Governor Gilmer of 
Virginia, who had taken his place, was instantly 
killed. Tyler, who was also on board, was like- 
wise saved in consequence of the exhibition of a 
characteristic trait ; for, just as the gun was about 
to be fired, something occurred in another part of 
the ship which distracted the attention of the 
fussy, fidgety President, who accordingly ran off 
to see what it was, and thus escaped the fatal ex- 
plosion. The tragic nature of the accident and 
his own narrow escape made a deep impression 

342 Thomas Hart Benton 

upon Benton ; and it was noticed that ever after- 
ward he was far more forbearing and forgiving 
than of old. He became good friends with Web- 
ster and other political opponents, with whom 
he had formerly hardly been on speaking terms. 
Calhoun alone he would never forgive. It ' was 
not in his nature to do anything by halves ; and 
accordingly, when he once forgave an opponent, 
he could not do enough to show him that the for- 
giveness was real. A Missourian named Wilson, 
who had been his bitter and malignant political 
foe for years, finally becoming broken in fortune 
and desirous of bettering himself by going to Cali- 
fornia, where Benton's influence, through his son- 
in-law, Fremont, was supreme, was persuaded by 
Webster to throw himself on the generosity of his 
old enemy. The latter not only met him half way, 
but helped him with a lavish kindness that would 
hardly have been warranted by less than a lifelong 
friendship. Webster has left on record the fact 
that, when once they had come to be on good 
terms with each other, there was no man in the 
whole Senate of whom he would more freely have 
asked any favor that could properly be granted. 

He was a most loving father. At his death he 
left four surviving daughters, — Mrs. William 
Carey Jones, Mrs. Sarah Benton Jacobs, Madame 
Susan Benton Boilleau, and Mrs. Jessie Ann Ben- 
ton Fremont, the wife of the great explorer, whose 

The Losing Fight 343 

wonderful feats and adventures, ending with the 
conquest of CaHfomia, where he became a sort of 
viceroy in point of power, made him an especial 
favorite with his father-in-law, who loved daring 
and hardihood. Benton took the keenest delight 
in Fremont's remarkable successes, and was never 
tired of talking of them, both within and without 
the Senate. He records with very natural pride 
the fact that it was only the courage and judgment 
displayed in a trying crisis by his own gifted 
daughter, Fremont's wife, which enabled the ad- 
venturous yoimg explorer to prosecute one of the 
most important of his expeditions, when threat- 
ened with fatal interference from jealous govern- 
mental superiors. 

He was an exceptionally devoted husband. His 
wife was Miss Elizabeth McDowell of Virginia, 
whom he married after he had entered the Senate. 
Their life was most happy imtil 1844, when she 
was struck by paralysis. From that time till her 
death in 1854, he never went out to a public place 
of amusement, spending all his time not occupied 
with public duties in writing by her bedside. It 
is scant praise to say that, while mere acquiescence 
on his part would have enabled him to become rich 
through government influence, he nevertheless 
died a poor man. In public, as in private life, he 
was a man of sensitive purity of character; he 
would never permit any person connected with 

344 Thomas Hart Benton 

him by blood or marriage to accept office under 
the government, nor would he ever favor any 
applicant for a government contract on political 

During his last years, when his sturdy independ- 
ence and devotion to the Union had caused him 
the loss of his political influence in his own State 
and with his own party, he nevertheless stood 
higher with the coimtry at large than ever before. 
He was a faithful friend and a bitter foe ; he was 
vain, proud, utterly fearless, and quite unable to 
comprehend such emotions as are expressed by the 
terms despondency and yielding. Without being 
a great orator or writer, or even an original 
thinker, he yet possessed marked ability ; and his 
aboimding vitality and marvelous memory, his in- 
domitable energy and industry, and his tenacious 
persistency and personal courage, all combined to 
give him a position and influence such as few 
American statesmen have ever held. His char- 
acter grew steadily to the very last; he made 
better speeches and was better able to face new 
problems when past threescore and ten than in his 
early youth or middle age. He possessed a rich 
fimd of political, legal, and historical learning, and 
every subject that he ever handled showed the 
traces of careful and thorough study. He was 
very courteous, except when provoked ; his cour- 
age was proof against all fear, and he shrank from 

The Losing Fight 345 

no contest, personal or political. He was some- 
times narrow-minded, and always wilful and 
passionate ; but he was honest and truthful. At 
all times and in all places he held every good gift 
he had completely at the service of the American 
Federal Union. 


Adams, John Quincy: in 
presidential election of 
1824-5, 57 > 58; makes Clay 
secretary of state, 58; and 
is assailed therefor, 58, 59; 
outlines Whig policy in his 
inaugural, 60; on the 
Panama mission, 60-61 ; in 
election of 1828, 66; pre- 
serves purity of civil ser- 
vice, 78; on recognition of 
Texas, 171 

"Albany Regency," the, 
adopts "spoils system," 77 

Arnold, Benedict: compared 
with Burr and J. Davis, 

Atchison, protests against 

admission of California, 


Benton, town of, founded, 24 
Benton, Thomas Hart: local 
character of his statesman- 
ship, 12-13; birth, 22; 
boyhood and education, 25 
et seq.; religious training, 
25; fights a duel, 26; af- 
fray with Jackson, 27; ad- 
mitted to the bar, 28; in 
legislature of Tennessee, 
28; on the Hartford Con- 
vention, 29; a slaveholder, 
30; favors war of 18 12, 
30; in service, 30; be- 
friends Jackson, 31; asso- 
ciations in Tennessee, 31 
etseq.; some traits of char- 

acter, 32-33; settles in 
Missouri, 34; surroundings 
and influences there, 38; 
speech on treaty with 
Spain concerning Florida, 
39-40; first position con- 
cerning slavery, 40-41 ; en- 
ters U. S. Senate, 42; hon- 
orable financial sacrifice, 
43 ; position on the Oregon 
question, 4S-49, 62, 249- 
255, 258—264, 266—272; bill 
to establish a trading road 
through Missouri, 50; on 
the removal of the In- 
dians, 53; votes for Clay's 
protective tariff bill, 55, 
60; opposes internal im- 
provements and Cumber- 
land Road bill, 56; con- 
demns election of John Q. 
Adams to Presidency, 57; 
supports Clay, then Jack- 
son, 58; will not join 
outcry against Adams and 
Clay, 58; a leader of the 
opposition to Adams in 
the Senate, 60; represents 
ultra-Southern feeling con- 
cerning revolted Spanish 
colonies, 62; vote on the 
protective tariff of 1828, 
63, 87, 97; efforts con- 
cerning disposal of public 
land, 65. 73, 141, 146, 205; 
hostility to the North- 
eastern States, 72; in the 
Webster-Hayne debate, 74; 




opposes Jackson's "spoils 
system," 75-81; leader of 
the Jacksonians in the 
Senate, 81, 82; shows that 
protective tariff has not 
helped the West, 86; urges 
repeal of the tax on salt, 
88, 215; vigorously sus- 
tains Jackson in the nulli- 
fication troubles, 95-100; 
sustains the Force bill, 100; 
opposes Clay's compromise 
measure, 102-104; remarks 
on his position at this 
period, 106; campaign 
against the Bank of the 
United States, 109, 121, 
129, 136; speech on the 
currency, 117, 130, 240; 
conflict with Clay, 123; on 
the removal of the de- 
posits, 125; opposes the 
resolution of censure 
against Jackson, 126; and 
pushes through his own 
expunging resolution, 128- 
129, 133-135; advocates 
establishment of mints at 
the South, 137; opposes 
distribution of surplus, 138, 
142; wishes it used for 
fortifications, 138, 142- 
145 ; advocates insisting on 
our claims against France, 
140; but opposes paying 
claims of American citi- 
zens, 141; opposes the so- 
called specie circulars, 146; 
views concerning Southern 
slavery politicians, 154; 
opposed to the Abolition- 
ists, 156; criticises Cal- 
houn, 159; aids to defeat 
bill prohibiting circulation 
of abolition docaments 
through U. S. mails, 160; 

carries bill extending boun- 
daries of Missouri, 161; 
urges admission of Michi- 
gan, 162; carries through 
treaty with Cherokees, 
162 ; defends governmental 
treatment of Indians, 163; 
condemns treaty estab- 
lishing Southwestern boun- 
dary, 166; position con- 
cerning annexation of 
Texas, 1 71-173; hostility 
to separatist doctrines, 178; 
blames bankers and poli- 
ticians for financial crisis 
of I S3 7, 180, 183; his fore- 
bodings of this trouble, 
180-182; demeanor in the 
crisis, 186; supports issue 
of Treasury notes, 187; 
opposes payment of fur- 
ther instalment of surplus, 
1 88; supports scheme for 
independent Treasury, 189, 
196; action concerning re- 
sumption by bonds, 192; a 
supporter of the adminis- 
tration in these times, 192 ; 
his knowledge, 192-193; 
hostile to paper currency, 
195; defends administra- 
tion in matters of Semi- 
nole war, 201; theory for 
conducting this war, 203- 
204; advocates homestead 
law, 205; opposes assump- 
tion of State debts by 
national government, 209; 
explains greater rapidity 
of progress at North than 
at South, 211; on the 
tariff of 1833, 212-21S; 
defends Jackson and Van 
Buren against charges of 
squandering public mon- 
eys, 218; in the Harrison 



campaign, 221; holds the 
Democrats for the Union, 
221-222; feehng concern- 
ing slaverj' about Van 
Buren's time, 223; leads 
the Democrats in struggle 
between President Tyler 
and Clay, 22S-232; exalts 
the "Democratic idea," 
229; comments on Tyler's 
first message to Congress, 
232; opposes sub-Treasury 
bill, 233; also the bank, 
distribution and bank- 
ruptcy bills, 234-237; op- 
poses the hour limit for 
speeches in the Senate, 
237-239; speech concern- 
ing the district banks and 
the currency, 240; opposes 
effort to establish a na- 
tional bank during Tyler's 
administration, 242-244; 
opposes new form of Treas- 
ury notes, 245; opposes 
subsidizingsteamship lines, 
245; also the abuse of the 
pension system, 245; al- 
ways an advocate of ex- 
tending the national boun- 
daries, 249, 252; opposes 
the Ashburton treaty, 254, 
258-264; remarks concern- 
ing the Caroline imbroglio, 
255; opposes making an 
efficient navy, 257; refer- 
ences to slavery in speeches 
on the Ashburton treaty, 
259, 265; on the Oregon 
question, 266-273; opposes 
the South, 285-286; op- 
poses Calhoun's treaty, 
290-294; hoodwinked by 
the annexationists, 297; 
attacks Calhoun and op- 
poses the Mexican war, 

2 98; offered the command 
of the army, 301; awakes 
to importance of slavery 
question, 301; his later 
position concerning it, 303, 
3 15-3 18; con tests with pro- 
slavery Senators, 305, 306; 
opposes Calhoun as to 
power of Congress over 
slavery in territories, 306- 
310; and as to admission 
of Oregon, 310; criticises 
Polk's administration, 311; 
visits New York in presi- 
dential campaign in 1848, 
312; defends Taylor's mes- 
sage, 313; opposes Clay's 
compromise, 314, 315-318; 
more antagonism toward 
Calhoun, 315; position on 
the Wilmot Proviso, 318; 
advocates admission of 
California as a Free State, 
319; refuses to support 
Fugitive Slave Act, 320; 
nickname of "Old Bul- 
lion," 322; opposition to 
him in Missouri, 323; de- 
feated, 324; goes to House 
of Representatives, 324; 
begins work on the "Thirty 
Years' View," 325; sup- 
ports Pierce for Presi- 
dency, 325; but later goes 
into opposition, 325; sup- 
ports scheme for Pacific 
Railroad, 326; discusses 
the Indian policy, 327; 
speeches on land-bounty 
and pension bills, 328; 
opposes Kansas-Nebraska 
bill, 329-332; discusses his- 
torically the Missouri Com- 
promise, 329-330; ridicules 
squatter sovereigntv, 331; 
opposes the Gladstone 



treaty, 332 ; view of South- 
em disunion scheme, 333; 
again defeated in Missouri 
elections, 334; returns to 
labor on "Thirty Years' 
View," 334; votes for Bu- 
chanan, 334; candidate for 
governorship, 334; stumps 
the State, 335; respected 
at the North, 335; prepares 
his "Abridgment of the 
Debates of Congress," 336; 
death, 336; value of his 
works, 337 ; criticism of the 
Dred Scott case, 338; and 
of the new Democratic 
theories, 338; domestic re- 
lations, 340; extensive 
knowledge, 340; on board 
the Princeton at time of 
explosion of great gun, 341 ; 
generous temper, 342 
Biddle, Nicholas: president 
of Bank of United States, 
no; his errors, 118; his 
bank goes to pieces, 196 
Birney, James G. : abolition- 
ist candidate for Presi- 
dency, 276; folly of nomi- 
nating him, 278. 294 
Blair, Francis C., displaced, 

Buchanan, James: on an- 
nexation of Texas, 294; 
Benton votes for him, 334 
Burr, Aaron: introduces 
"spoils system" in New 
York, 77; compared with 
Benedict Arnold, 155 

Calhoun, John C: rupture 
with Jackson, resignation 
from Vice-Presidency, 82; 
position concerning tariff 
in 1816, 85; position as a 
nullifier, 91; introduces 
nullification resolutions, 

98; threatened with hang- 
ing, 99; arranges compro- 
mise with Clay, loi; sub- 
seqiient quarrel with Clay 
concerning this, 104; his 
purposes at this time, 105; 
assails Jackson, 126; op- 
poses Webster's bill for 
rechartering bank, 130; on 
the expunging resolution, 
134; proposes constitu- 
tional amendment for dis- 
tribution of Treasury sur- 
plus, 137; opposes appro- 
priating Treasury surplus 
for fortifications, 139; at- 
tack on President Pierce, 
15S; his honesty, 160; on 
admission of Texas, 170; 
in connection with trouble 
with Mexico, 246; on the 
Oregon question, 270; in- 
strumental in election of 
Polk. 276; letter to Lord 
Aberdeen, 285; assailed by 
Benton as to annexation 
of Texas 291, 293; action 
as to legislation about 
Texas, 297; relations as to 
Mexican war, 298: and the 
Wilmot Proviso, 305; reso- 
lution as to power of Con- 
gress over slavery in the 
territories, 306-308; not 
a "Union man," 308; on 
the admission of Oregon, 
309, 310, 311; dislikes 
Taylor's message to Con- 
gress, 313 

California, admission of, 319 

Caroline, affair of the, 255 

Cartwright, Peter, 32 

Cass, Lewis: nominated for 
Presidency, 311 

Cherokees, treaty for their 
removal, 162 

Clay, Henry: introduces his 



first tariflf bill, 55; secre- 
tary of state under Adams, 
cS; assailed therefor, and 
fights Randolph, 59; de- 
vises the Panama mission, 
60; leader of National Re- 
publican or Whig party, 
82; defies "the South, the 
President, and the devil," 
85; erroneous statement as 
to effect of tariff in the 
West, 86; angers the nuUi- 
fiers, 95; defeated in presi- 
dential election in 1832, 
95; alarmed at position of 
Calhoun, loi; and pre- 
pares compromise, loi; 
afterward quarrels about it 
with Calhoun, 104; be- 
friends Bank of the United 
States, 119, 121, 123; effect 
on his political fortunes, 
119; introduces resolution 
for return of deposits, 125; 
also for censuring Presi- 
dent Jackson, 126; opposes 
Webster's bill for rechar- 
tering Bank, 130; on the 
expunging resolution, 134; 
opposes establishment of 
mints at the South, 137; 
also appropriating surplus 
for fortifications, 139; in 
financial crisis of 1837,189; 
on the sub-Treasury bill, 

190, 194; on resumption 

191, 192; opposes payment 
of state debts by national 
government, 210; prepares 
financial measures upon 
Tyler's accession, 227, 231; 
construction of a presi- 
dential election, 228; pro- 
gramme for legislation un- 
der Tyler, 233; attempts to 
introduce hour-limits for 
speeches in Senate, 237, 

239; lectures Tyler in the 
Bank debate, 243; de- 
feated by Polk, 275 ; causes 
thereof, 294; attacks Tay- 
lor's message to Congress, 
313; proposes compromise 
of slavery controversy, 
313; defeated by Benton, 
318; compared with Ben- 
ton, 321 

Crawford, William H . : adopts 
the "spoils system," 76 

Crockett, David, 26, 33; 
berates Jackson, 107 

Cumberland Road, Benton 
votes against bill for, 56 

Davis, Jefferson: compared 
with Benedict Arnold, 155; 
a repudiator, 208; and Cal- 
houn's resolution as to 
slavery in the territories, 
308; protests against ad- 
mission of California, 320 

Drayton, family, loyalty of 
the family in South Caro- 
lina, 92 

Florida, the treaty securing 
it to the United States, 39 

Foote, Senator from Missis- 
sippi, opposition to his 
public land scheme by 
Benton and Webster, 73 

Fremont, John C: explores 
Rocky Mountains, 263; 
Benton will not vote for, 
334; Benton's interest in 
his explorations, 343 

Giddings, Joshua R., sound 
policy of, 278 

Harrison, Wm. Henry: elec- 
tion not affected by slavery 
question, 222; death and 
character, 225 

Hartford Convention, criti- 



cized by Benton, 29, 75; 
causes of, 47 
Houston, Samuel, 32; wins 
victory of San Jacinto, 
170; hates Van Buren, 178; 
description of, 309; votes 
to admit California, 320 

Indian tribes, Benton on the 
removal of, 53 ; criticism on 
treatment of, 55, 163, 328; 
removal of Cherokees in 
1836, 162 

Jackson, Andrew: affray with 
Benton, 27; befriended by 
Benton at Washington, 31 ; 
in presidential election of 
1824, 57; incensed against 
Adams and Clay, 59; suc- 
cess in election of 1828, 66; 
character of his following, 
68, 71, 72; his opponents, 
69; his victory compared 
with Jefferson's, 69; com- 
pared with Wellington, 70; 
foster-father of the "spoils 
system," 75, 78; inferior 
character of his cabinet, 
82; relations of his fol- 
lowers with those of Clay 
and Calhoun, 82; struggles 
with the Bank and the 
nullifiers, 84; expected to 
support nullification, 92; 
but does not, 92; repudi- 
ates Calhoun and adopts 
Van Buren, 92; at the Jef- 
ferson birthday banquet, 
93; again defines his posi- 
tion, 94; signs new tariff 
bill, 95; re-elected in 1832, 
95; issues proclamation 
against nullification, 96; 
special message on nulli- 
fication, 97; opinion on 
tariff, 97; threatens to 
hang Calhoun, 99; signs 

"force bill," also Clay's 
compromise bill, 103; be- 
haves badly in case of 
Georgia, 107; attack on 
U. S. Bank, 109 et seq.; 
reasons of his political suc- 
cess, hi; opposes re-char- 
ter of Bank in message of 
1829, 112; vetoes bill for 
re-charter, 121; re-elected, 
124; removes the deposits, 
1 24 ; protests against Clay's 
resolution of censure, 126; 
continued assaults on the 
Bank, 132; gives a dinner 
to the cxpungers, 134; 
signs bill for distributing 
Treasury surplus, 145; is- 
sues Treasury order con- 
cerning paj'^ments for pub- 
lic lands, 147; Kitchen 
Cabinet and "machine 
politics," 174, 175; liking 
for Van Buren, 176; his 
nationalism, 221; praised 
by Benton for hanging 
Arbuthnot and Ambrister, 
257; favors annexation of 
Texas, 282; and Van 
Buren, 283 
Jefferson, Thomas: character 
of his following, 67 ; his vic- 
tory compared with Jack- 
son's, 69; his pseudo- 
classicism, 88; quoted as 
authority for nullification, 
90; celebration of birth- 
day of, 93 

Lee, Robert E.: military 

standing of, 36 
Lincoln, Abraham: services 

in anti-slavery cause, 150 
Livingston, Edward: aids 

in preparing proclamation 

against nullification, 96 
Lucas, Benton's duel with, 26 



Madison, James, quoted, 154 

Marcy, William L., adopts 
"spoils system," 77; 
cringes to the South, 102 

McDuffie, passage at arms 
with Benton, 289; deceives 
Benton as to taxes, 297 

McLeod, Alexander, case of, 

Missouri, character of its 
population, 37; admission 
to the Union, 42, 45; land 
titles in, 43 

Missouri Compromise bill, 42 ; 
not the beginning of the 
slavery and anti-slavery 
divisions in the Union, 46; 
Benton concerning repeal 
of, 329 

Monroe, James, remarks. 45, 
55, 56, signs bill for trad- 
ing road, 50 

New Orleans, Benton's as- 
tonishing description of, 88 

Oregon, disputed between 
Great Britain and the 
United States, 48; Ben- 
ton's remarks concerning, 
50; comes into notice again 
in J. Q. Adams's term, 62; 
final settlement of the 
matter, 246-2 58; neglected 
in Ashburton treaty, 263, 
and by Calhoun, 263, and 
others, 264; Benton's feel- 
ing about, 266, 268 ; bill for 
settlement of, 269; Cal- 
houn on the admission of, 


Panama mission, disputes 

concerning, 60-62 
Phillips, Wendell, estimate 

of, 152 
Pierce, Franklin, assailed by 


Calhoun, 158; relations 
with Benton, 325; a valua- 
tion of, 325-326; Benton 
upon pro-slavery tenden- 
cies of, 339 
Polk, James K., character of 
his following, 221 ; and the 
Southwestern boundary, 
271-272 ; elected President, 
275, 294; estimate of, 276; 
deceives Benton as to 
Texas, 297 ; displaces Blair. 
300; relations with various 
portions of Democratic 
party, 300, 301 

Randolph, John: duel with 

Clay, 59 
Rynders, Isaiah, a type, 276 

Seminoles, war with, 198-205 

Taney, Roger B., removes 
the deposits, 124; after- 
ward made chief justice, 
125; criticized by Benton 
for his opinion in Dred 
Scott case, 338 

Taylor, Zachary, elected 
President, 311; character, 
312, 319; message to Con- 
gress, 313; dies, 319 

Tyler, John, opposes "Force 
Bill," 100; estimate of, on 
his accession, 225; his 
political affiliations, 226- 
228; first message to Con- 
gress, 232; conduct con- 
cerning bill for establishing 
a bank, 241-244; his cabi- 
net resigns, 244; identifies 
himself with the separatist 
Democrats, 283; schemes 
for annexation of Texas, 
285, 291; assailed by Ben- 
ton, 291, 293; behavior at 
time of explosion of gun on 
board the Princeton, 341 



Van Buren, Martin, supports 
Crawford for Presidency in 
1824, 58; adopts "spoils 
system," 77; adopted by 
Jackson as his heir, 92; 
Vice-President, 95; pro- 
duct of "machine poli- 
tics," 174; befriended by 
Jackson , 175; sketch of, 
and causes of his elevation, 
176-178; his inaugural, 
178; financial crisis and his 
doings therein, 178 et seq., 
183, 185, 186; financial 
measures, 189; has to deal 
with the Seminoles, 198; 
public dishonesty under, 
207; charged with squan- 
dering the public money, 
218; significance of his 
defeat, 221-222; slavery 
question did not arise in 
his administration, 223; 
champion of old-style 
Union Democrats, and op- 
posed to annexation of 
Texas, 283; candidate for 
Presidency, 283, 294; and 
the Free Soil party, 312 

War of 1 81 2, a cause of the, 
7 ; political influence on 
Benton, 29 

Warsaw, social habits of the 
town, 34 

Webster, Daniel, position of, 
concerning Clay's first tar- 
iff bill, 55; position on the 
tariff question in 1828, 64; 
in the debate on Foote's 
resolution concerning sales 
of public land, 74, 93; 
leader of National Repub- 
lican, or Whig, party, 82; 
aids Jackson in nullifica- 
tion troubles, 99; advo- 

cates the "force bill," 100; 
resolute in opposition to 
the South, loi, 102, 103; 
remarks as to his services, 
106; befriends Bank of 
United States, 119, 120, 
121, 123; personal rela- 
tions with the Jackson- 
ians, 125; introduces bill 
for re-charter of Bank, 
130; on the expunging 
resolution, 134; supports 
establishment of mints at 
the South, 137; opposes 
appropriating Treasury 
surplus for fortifications, 
139; in financial crisis of 
1837, 189; on sub-Treasury 
scheme, 190, 194; opposes 
payment of state debt by 
national government, 210; 
remains in Tyler's cabinet, 
244; negotiates treaty with 
England, settling boun- 
daries between United 
States and British pos- 
sessions, 246, 248; criti- 
cized by Benton, 258-262; 
neglects Oregon contro- 
versy, 263; compared with 
Benton on the slavery 
question, 303, 321: com- 
pliments Benton's knowl- 
edge, 340; on friendly 
terms with Benton, 342 

Wellington, Duke of, com- 
pared with W^ashington 
and Jackson, 70 

Wilmot Proviso. Benton's 
remarks upon, 305, 318 

Wright, Silas, adopts "spoils 
svstem," 77; expresses the 
"'dough face " sentiment at 
time of nullification trou- 
bles, 102 

APR no 1903 

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